We’re striking a blow against BHP greed
Going on strike for a week is a big call. It’s never a decision workers take lightly and it happens rarely.
But this week, over 3,500 coal mine workers from seven central Queensland mines operated by BHP have made that call.
The week-long strike comes after many months of smaller stoppages. But when you’re negotiating with one of the richest companies in the world, it takes something dramatic to get their attention.
At these coal mines, clustered around towns like Moranbah, Dysart, Blackwater and Emerald in Queensland’s Bowen Basin, up to a million tonnes of coking coal are produced each week for export, fuelling the steel-making furnaces of Asia.
These mines are highly profitable. They are a significant contributor to the record profits BHP has recorded in the past 12 months and expansion plans are firmly in place. BHP is riding the resources boom.
What’s at stake in this week’s industrial action in the Bowen Basin comes down to this: is this mining boom going to deliver better, safer, more secure jobs to Australian workers? Or are we going to let mining companies drive down workplace conditions as they ramp up production, expand their operations and rake in record profits?
BHP has fully embraced the corporate slogan du jour - “management’s right to manage” - in regard to the current industrial dispute. It really wants to come to an agreement with its Bowen Basin workforce on a new collective agreement. Truly it does. But management prerogative is “sacrosanct”, says CEO Marius Kloppers, regretfully.
In the mouths of business leaders like Kloppers, management prerogative really means “wanting everything our own way”.
There is no question of management’s right to manage. In BHP, as in all mining operations, it’s management making the decisions about investment, about production and about operations.
But we also have community expectations, backed up by industrial laws, that workers have the right to have a say. Not just over their pay, but over issues that affect them at work – like safety protections, measures to protect job security, family-friendly work arrangements, work hours and rostering.
Workers can come together, decide what’s important to them, and collectively bargain with their employer to negotiate a deal that both parties agree.
Never mind bleating from employers about “management prerogative”. When your employer is BHP, one of the biggest, richest and most powerful companies in the world, it is workers’ right to have their say on conditions like safety and job security that should be sacrosanct.
Over the past year, the big mining companies have demonstrated over and again on the national stage that they’ll do what it takes to get their own way.
BHP has played hardball in enterprise agreement negotiations with its central Queensland mining workforce for 15 months.
To their credit, the workers have stood firm. In the middle of this epic mining boom, they want their jobs to get better, not worse. They are not willing to stand back and watch BHP chip away at their conditions while profits boom.
Workers are only taking this action because the issues at stake are important.
There are a series of 15 points the parties disagree on, including:
- hanging on to important safety protections around fatigue management and the chain of command for key safety positions;
- reinstating equal pay for labour hire workers, and protections for permanent workers displaced by contractors, both slashed by BHP under WorkChoices;
- and gradually increasing superannuation to 12 percent, the same as BHP pays its management employees.
BHP made a $23 billion profit last year, yet the company won’t budge on superannuation.
These issues are all important individually – but the bigger picture is that as BHP expands its coal mining operations, it is trying to hold workers’ conditions down. BHP Head Office in Melbourne is breathing down the neck of local management, insisting they play hardball on conditions they can well afford and have readily agreed to in previous negotiations. The workforce is furious.
We know one thing about mining companies: they won’t share the benefits of this mining boom out of the goodness of their hearts.
Mining companies are tough negotiators. Just ask the Federal Government. But the Bowen Basin coal miners have backbone. They deserve support because of what’s at stake: this one-off boom should make things better for mine workers, their families and communities. Not worse.
Andrew Vickers, General Secretary, CFMEU Mining and Energy Division
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…