Workers at the BHP Billiton Mt Arthur coalmine went on strike for about 26 hours on May 26 and 27. It was the first strike at the mine (formerly known as the Bayswater pit) in its 23-year operational history.
A striking worker from the mine said the reliability of coal supplied by the mine was a big selling point and the strike would damage the mine’s reputation.
The worker, who did not want his name used for fear of retribution, told Green Left Weekly the dispute started when another worker arrived on the afternoon of May 26 and was told she had been sacked.
The mine management immediately proceeded to “frog march the woman to a waiting taxi, which had been called by the company, and said that she was not allowed to return”.
The mine worker said this was in contravention of BHP Billiton’s policy of “three strikes and you’re out”. Under the policy, a worker must receive a verbal warning followed by two written warnings before being sacked.
In response to the sacking, workers called a meeting and unanimously decided to take action. They walked off the job for the remaining two hours of the shift. The night shift did not start. When company representatives told the morning crew on May 27 that the worker would not be reinstated, the crew did not start either.
The worker said that, at the start of the strike, the mines operations manager “was more concerned about loading the trains” than the strike, and clearly “underestimated the resolve of the workers”.
Company representatives met at the Fair Work Australia office in Sydney on May 28 and applied for a return to work order that included a three-month “no industrial action” clause.
This was reduced to one month, after representations by the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) legal team.