Qld miners stand firm against BHP’s attacks

Coalmine workers employed by the BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) in central Queensland's Bowen Basin are standing firm in the face of escalating attacks by their employer. In the latest round, BHP has announced the closure of its Norwich Park coalmine, south-east of Dysart. The move is clearly aimed at putting pressure on the mineworkers to settle their longstanding industrial dispute.

The company blamed several factors for the decision to stop production at the Norwich Park mine, including the effects of the floods last year, lower world coal prices and the 16-month-long industrial dispute which has affected all BMA mines in the region.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman even accused the federal Labor government's industrial relations policies of causing the mine closure "for creating an environment where we're seeing a break-out in industrial action", reported the April 13 Courier Mail.

Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CMFEU) mining and energy division district president Stephen Smyth said: “I'd hate to think this is the length [BHP would] go to ... shut a mine down to show them. If it is, it's a pretty low act to do. For BHP, this is probably simply a business transaction.”

It appears BHP Billiton is taking a leaf out of the book of Qantas management with this mine closure. Also like Qantas, it has also moved to bypass unions during a drawn-out industrial dispute. It put a workplace agreement to a direct employee vote, bypassing the unions.

BHP said on April 9 that it would put the proposed agreement to a vote by the end of April.

The CFMEU has called more strikes at the seven mines involved in the dispute, as well as rolling stoppages in coming weeks. The union has accused BMA of going back on several previously negotiated terms of a new agreement.

Dysart mineworker Mitch Hughes told News.com.au that the coalminers' campaign was about workplace conditions, not pay. He said this includes the right of workers to veto unpopular rosters and to make the company help to secure affordable accommodation for miners' families. News.com.au said “private rents had soared to $1500 a week” in the central Queensland coal belt.

Miners have accused the company of planning to bring in seven-day-on/seven-day-off rosters and boost fly-in fly-out work contracts.

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