BHP Billiton’s recommendation to the Productivity Commission to restrict unions’ capacity to take industrial action through changes to the Fair Work Act was heavily criticised by the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).
The giant miner recommended to the Productivity Commission’s Workplace Relations inquiry that the Fair Work Act be revised to limit the use of work bans and strikes, with BHP’s coal boss Mike Henry complaining that industrial action affects mining productivity.
The Miners’ Union reacted to BHP’s recommendation by issuing a media statement in which it argues that such intervention to the Act would put even more power in the hands of vastly powerful mining companies.
“BHP coal mines are producing record amounts of coal because of a good union agreement that facilitates improved productivity,” said CFMEU Mining and Energy Queensland President Steve Smyth.
“Yet BHP continues to attack hard-fought work rights and conditions in its coal mines. If BHP wants a better relationship with its workforce it won’t get there through changing the law to limit industrial action. It will get there by being a better employer and corporate citizen.”
Mr Smyth urged BHP Billiton to stop trying to drive down wages and wind back mine safety if it wants to avoid industrial actions.
“BHP managers frequently tell mineworkers they are too highly paid and therefore vulnerable to losing their jobs to lower-paid contractors. The leaked plan by BHP to reopen Norwich Park mine with interstate workers with a view to driving down wages across the industry was a disturbing insight into the lengths mining companies will go,” Mr Smyth said.
“Mining is a hazardous industry. Already this year we have seen two fatal accidents in Queensland’s Bowen Basin coal mines alone. Yet BHP is continually trying to wind back the rights of safety officers on mine sites.”
He also advised the company to stop discriminating against local workers and bargain in good faith to avoid lengthy disputes with employees.
“A forum in Mackay convened by the CFMEU yesterday heard about the community’s dismay at BHP’s compulsory 100% FIFO Daunia and Caval Ridge coal mines that lock locals out of jobs. BHP wants changes to the law to bolster its own power over workers, while completely disregarding the needs of the communities it operates in,” Mr Smyth added.
“Coal mineworkers have aggressive, powerful employers in companies like BHP. They need avenues to take a stand for their rights, conditions and safety. BHP should stop attacking workers’ reasonable rights to take industrial action and start focusing on being a better employer and corporate citizen.”