About 3,500 workers from mining giant BHP Billiton’s Queensland coal mines began a seven-day strike yesterday in what unions said was one of the nation’s largest industrial stoppages in a decade.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) said the strike affected seven mines in the Bowen Basin, which have a normal weekly production of up to 1 million tonnes of coking coal, used to manufacture steel.
“Today is the first day of this current seven-day stoppage,” CFMEU district president Stephen Smyth said, adding that it was the first strike across BHP’s seven mines in the coal-rich basin.
BHP, which earlier this month posted one of the largest first-half profits in Australian corporate history — US$9.94 billion — is the world’s biggest miner and one of the globe’s largest producers of coal.
Workers have been in dispute with BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance — which operates the seven mines — over working conditions, including housing, safety and union representation,.
“We’re disappointed with any decision to stop work, but we remain committed to resuming negotiations in good faith. We just really want to get back to the negotiating table,” a BHP spokeswoman said. “We reserve the right to manage our business safely and in a commercially successful way, and we’re urging employees and representatives to return to constructive discussions.”
However, the union said BHP was enjoying record profits at the expense of workers and that the firm needed to be more flexible in its negotiations.
“Last year, BHP made a record US$23 billion profit. These workers are taking a stand for safe, secure jobs — BHP can afford to do the right thing,” CFMEU national president Tony Maher said.