Australian-Japanese joint venture BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) is facing potential strikes at its coking coal mines in Queensland, as members of Australian unions vote in favour of taking protected industrial action.
Members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) have voted to take industrial action at BMA's coking and thermal coal mines, while the Construction Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) is still balloting its workers with the results expected in around a week. BHP, which operates the 50:50 joint venture with Mitsubishi, has not been notified of any industrial action, and plans BMA enterprise agreement negotiations for this week. Industrial action will only serve to disrupt negotiations that have been occurring in good faith, a BHP spokesman said.
BHP is offering a 1.5pc/yr pay rise under a new four-year agreement, backdated to May 2021 when the previous agreement expired. Union members have called the increase too small and are also asking for increased job protections. There is a major labour shortage in Australia, particularly in the mining industry, as overseas migration has not returned sufficiently following strict Covid-19 border closures.
BHP's 50pc stake in BMA contributed earnings before interest and tax (ebit) of $5.71bn in 2021-22 compared with a loss of $30mn in 2020-21, largely on higher received prices. Coal, including New South Wales Energy Coal, was the second-largest contributor to BHP's ebit in 2021-22 behind iron ore but ahead of copper and compared with a loss from its unallocated operations that include the growth assets of nickel and potash.
The firm has cut all investment in BMA, in response to the state government's coal royalty rate increase and China's continuing ban on imports of Australian coal.
Premium hard coking coal prices have rallied since the start of August to $283.70/t fob Australia on 14 October from $187.35/t on 1 August, with BHP first balloting its workers on the new enterprise agreement in the second week in August.
BMA, which is the world's largest supplier of seaborne coking coal, had its operations crippled the last time its workers went on strike during 2011-12. This industrial action covered all its Queensland coking coal mines and caused it to occasionally declare a force majeure on supplies and helped to keep coking coal prices above $200/t fob Australia until they were resolved in mid-2012. Argusmedia
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