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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Union says BHP Australian coal workers to strike

Thu Feb 9, 2012

SYDNEY Feb 9 (Reuters) - BHP Billiton's Bowen Basin coal workers will strike for seven days next week in the latest chapter of a months-long battle with the world's biggest miner, the miners' union said on Thursday.

"Workers at the Goonyella Riverside, Broadmeadow, Peak Downs, Saraji, Norwich Park, Gregory Crinum, and Blackwater mines will be involved in the strike from midday next Wednesday," the union said.

The action could support spot metallurgical coal prices, which have tumbled to around $215 per tonne this week, down from the 2011 high of $350 per tonne when prices were driven up by flooding that nearly halted coal production in Queensland state.

About 3,500 unionised workers at the BHP Billiton-Mistubishi Alliance (BMA) mines have been staging rolling work stoppages since they first approved strike action in June 2011. The total workforce at the mines is around 10,000.

Union members have been striking for greater job security and more pay as rising commodity prices boost mining sector profits, but they have so far been unable to reach an agreement with BMA.

BHP Billiton reported a rare fall in earnings on Wednesday, in part due to labour battles and weaker commodity prices, but still brought in $9.94 billion in half-year profits.

"We are extremely disappointed as we have consistently demonstrated our commitment to negotiating constructively with the unions...strike action will not change our position, as has been the case for the past eight months," BHP said in a statement on Thursday.

BHP's chief executive told reporters on Wednesday that the company desired nothing more than to "reach an agreement with the minimum amount of fuss".

BMA-operated mines have a combined output capacity of more than 58 million tonnes per year of mostly metallurgical coal, representing about a fifth of annual global trade.

Analysts have estimated that a full week of 12-hour stoppages at the mines would cut production by up to 1 million tonnes.

The BMA strike action follows a week-long strike at the BHP Billiton-operated Port Kembla coal terminal which exports around 10 million tonnes of coal and coke per year and processed about 5 percent of seaborne metallurgical coal, used for steelmaking, last year.

(sourced Reuters)

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