SYDNEY: Two coal mines in Australia operated by BHP Billiton will be hit by more industrial action by union workers this weekend ahead of meetings next week over a new labour agreement, a union official said on Friday.
Rolling 12-hour work stoppages are scheduled for the Gregory and Blackwater collieries in the Bowen Basin coalfields of Queensland State jointly-owned by BHP Billiton and Mitsubishi and operated by BHP Billiton, Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) district president Steve Smyth told Reuters.
"We're planning 21-hour stoppages at the Blackwater and Gregory mines over the weekend," Smyth said.
The Blackwater mine produces around 14 million tonnes of metallurgical and thermal coal and the Gregory Crinum collieries yield about 4 million tonnes of metallurgical coal each year.
Over the past several months union, up to 4,000 union workers -- out of a total workforce of about 10,000 -- have targeted six BHP Billiton-Mitsubishi mine with a combined production capacity of more than 58 million tonnes per year of metallurgical coal used to make steel and account for about a fifth of the global trade.
BHP Billiton in July reported a faster-than-expected recovery in coal production after being hit by extensive flooding earlier in the year but warned it will take the rest of 2011 to return to normal
Smyth said he was "optimistic" over the outcome of talks scheduled for Aug. 18-19 with BHP Billiton, but said the campaign of rolling stoppages would continue if there were attempts to weaken the collective bargaining power of the workforce.
BHP Billiton said BMA was continuing to meet and negotiate with the unions and believed good progress was being made.
"Further meetings are scheduled through the remainder of August in an effort to finalise outstanding items," it said.
The CFMEU is the largest of three unions making up the single bargaining unit in negotiation with BHP Billiton.
The campaign has been helping underpin global coal prices, already firm on restricted supply from Australia due to widespread flooding of coal fields earlier this year.
The price of metallurgical coal used in steel production stood at around $315 a tonne while thermal coal prices remained stable at around $120, according to coal traders.
Copyright Reuters, 2010