Unions given the greenlight to continue BHP strikes

BHP, the world's largest exporter of coking coal, was dealt a serious blow yesterday when the Australian Industrial Relations Commission rejected an appeal aimed at stopping ongoing strikes that have crippled its Queensland collieries. Reported on MiningNews.net.

Staff Reporter

BHP had asked the commission to terminate enterprise bargaining periods at its Peak Downs, Saraji, Norwich Park, Gregory and Crinum coal mines in Queensland's Bowen Basin and the Hay Point export terminal.

Terminating the bargaining periods would have prevented workers taking protected industrial action against BHP, which has already lost 155 days to strikes since the enterprise bargaining dispute began at a cost it estimates at $100 million.

Handing down his ruling yesterday, commissioner Ken Bacon rejected BHP's claim the dispute was causing serious damage to the Australian economy and tarnishing the Australian coal industry's reputation as a reliable exporter, the Australian Financial Review newspaper reported.

"It is difficult to accept that the customers of Australian producers other than BHP who have had no difficulty with supply over a number of years should suddenly move away from their Australian suppliers because of industrial action at some BHP operations," the paper reported Bacon as saying.

"That some customers of BHPC may source their coal from other suppliers is a potential outcome of the current industrial action … such factors are inherent in the form of bargaining that is now central to Australia's industrial relations system. There is no point to protected action unless it places some commercial pressure on the employer."

The AFR reported the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Engineering Union as saying it would call off industrial action if the company returns to the negotiating table.

BHP told MiningNews.net earlier that after 15 months of talks, the situation has gone beyond negotiations. A company spokesman said BHP needs the flexibility already won by its competitors.