SYDNEY, July 4 (Reuters) - Rolling industrial action at Australian coal mines jointly owned by BHP Billiton and Mitsubishi Corp could continue through next week as members press for job security and training, the main union at the mines said on Monday.
The last in a campaign of 12-hour work stoppages at the mines is set for Wednesday ahead of meetings with BHP Billiton next Monday and Tuesday, Steve Smyth, Queensland president of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), told Reuters.
"If those meetings do not produce results, we are prepared to continue our actions, Smyth said.
The targeted mines have 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. ` Smyth said he was unable to calculate the impact on production from the union's actions.
Analysts have estimated the impact on production could be between 500,000 tonnes and 1 million tonnes.
Uncertainty over production of metallurgical coal in Australia is propping up world prices, which at $315 a tonne, are only $15 below the last quarter's record $330.
Coal miners in Queensland state, the main source of Australian metallurgical coal, are scheduled to report production for the April 1-June 30 quarter this month.
Last quarter's production figures are expected to show significant year-on-year drops due to heavy flooding and rail damage earlier in 2011 and to a lesser extent labour unrest at the BHP-Mitsubishi mines.
Union workers at six Australian coal mines operated by BHP Billiton-Mitsubishi Alliance are protesting over a lack of job training and concerns of rising non-union staff jobs.
Roughly 3,500 of the mines' workers belong to unions out of a total workforce of around 10,000.
BHP Billiton, the operator of the mines, has declined to make public any impact the actions may be having on production, saying the performance of the mines will be contained in its next company-wide production report July 20.
Australia has already revised down its official forecast for total metallurgical coal exports this year due to an unseasonally long wet season that flooded out many of the nation's coal mines. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences recently revised down its export forecast in the coming year by 5 percent, citing ongoing disruptions caused by floods despite an end to the rains in March.
Smyth said union workers were not at a stage whether they would consider escalating their actions.
"What we are doing is all about getting down to business with BHP," Smyth said.(By Thomson Reuters)