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Is BHP still the Big Australian?

10 Feb 2012

CFMEU National President Tony Maher explains why BHP is no longer the “big Australian”.

BHP had its humble beginnings in Broken Hill when it opened a silver and lead mine and floated it on the fledgling stock exchange in 1885. Since then it’s become the world’s biggest mining company (and the world’s third biggest company outright) venturing into iron ore, copper, steel manufacturing and more. It employs 40,000 people in 25 countries  — so is it still the iconic “big Australian”?

Well it still has its HQ in Melbourne but since it merged with mining company Billiton in 2001 it has dual listings and has a major arm in the UK.

It’s had its fair share of economic and social controversies too – not least of them, the Ok Tedi environmental disaster in PNG. You can read more about this at BHP Billiton Watch.

And as far as contributing to the Australian economy, BHP Billiton has opposed many of the tax proposals which would have helped – crying poor over the mining tax despite and labelling a carbon price on carbon as a “dead weight cost

This despite the billions of dollars in profits made every year.

Now BHP is at the centre of another controversy:  3,500 workers from seven mines off work for a week, with a hit to BHP of about $150 million.

The CFMEU wants BHP to provide extra fatigue breaks for employees working 12-hour shifts on consecutive nights. The union is also insisting that the job of safety deputies and open cut inspectors remain as union member jobs and not be done by BHP appointed staff. The CFMEU points to BHP’s previous record on mining disasters at Appin and Moura which show the company can’t be trusted to look after safety on its own.

You can listen to an interview with the CFMEU’s Stephen Smyth about the decision to take action here.

The dispute has been running for over a year now, with miners’ families taking their case to BHP’s AGM last year to raise concerns about safety issues for their husbands.

National President of the CFMEU Tony Maher says it’s time BHP put some of its massive profits back into the mining community. Last year, BHP made a record $23 billion profit.

“BHP can afford to do the right thing by its Bowen Basin workers,” said Maher.

Kloppers has warned that miners’ jobs are at risk and has blamed the Fair Work act for complicating negotiations between the union and management.

But Tony Maher says BHP has an obligation to workers’ safety. “Last year, BHP made a record $23 billion profit. These workers are taking a stand for safe, secure jobs – BHP can afford to do the right thing,” he said.