BHP coal mines to be hit by new stoppages April 12: union

Wed Apr 4, 2012 10:43pm EDT
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By James Regan

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian coal mines owned by BHP Billiton (BHP.AX: Quote) (BLT.L: Quote) and Mitsubishi Corp (8058.T: Quote) will be hit by a second work stoppage on April 12, with union workers planning to halt work for two days, a union official said on Thursday.

"We're looking at next Thursday's night shift to start the stoppage through to Saturday day shift at all seven mines," Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) District President Stephen Smyth told Reuters.

The mines, operated under the BHP Billiton-Mitsubishi Alliance joint venture, have a combined output capacity of more than 58 million metric tons (63.94 million tons) a year, representing about a fifth of annual global trade in metallurgical coal.

"There also may be other industrial action taken," Smyth said. About 3,500 employees led by the CFMEU completed a seven-day strike on Tuesday after talks over working conditions and union entitlements broke down. The mines employ around 10,000 people.

On Monday, BHP declared force majeure on deliveries from the predominately metallurgical coal mines in the Bowen Basin, citing long-running labor stoppages compounded by heavy rains that have impeded production runs.

Force majeure is a legal clause relieving companies of immediate supply obligations due to circumstances beyond their control.

UBS has estimated that the strikes and heavy rains have resulted in 2 to 3 million metric tons of lost production this year.

Smyth said the mines were "struggling" as a result and faced difficulty in filling orders and that some 15 ships were sitting idle off the main coal port terminal of Hay Point.   Continued...