On January 21, BHP-Billiton announced the sacking of 3400 workers across Australia.
The response from the federal Labor government has been underwhelming. Calling an immediate press conference, federal treasurer Wayne Swan described BHP's actions as "a tragedy" and a "sobering reminder" of the evaporation of the mining boom.
Apart from the immediate impact on the sacked workers, BHP's decision will also devastate regional towns in WA and Queensland.
In the 2007-08 financial year, BHP registered profits of $15.4 billion. While the company has been hit by the global slump in commodity prices, its profit outlook for 2008-09 still remains rosy, with an expectation of $13.3 billion, according to the January 20 Herald Sun.
BHP-Billiton is hardly on the brink of collapse. The company has made billions over the years on the back of workers. It also received millions of dollars of public money in the 80s from the federal Steel Plan.
The federal government should insist that BHP open its books.
BHP workers and the communities affected should be part of deciding what is a "reasonable" profit — not BHP shareholders.
Where BHP has been affected by the global resource slow-down, it should be obligated to share the necessary work around all existing workers, without loss in pay.
For years BHP has had its hand in the pockets of tax payers. It's time BHP gave that money back to the community, instead of putting workers on the unemployment queues.
[Margarita Windisch is a national co-convenor of the Socialist Alliance.]