Two weeks before Andrew Mackenzie extended his mission of simplicity to Australian industrial relations, the coal workers of Queensland were offered documentary evidence of exactly what the BHP Billiton chief executive might have in mind.
“BHP Billiton believes it’s in the national interest to simplify workplace agreements so that our teams have the flexibility to succeed in the global market,” Mackenzie told The Australian Financial Review Business Summit on Wednesday.
True to his politically moderate roots, Mackenzie went on to note that industrial relations in Australia posed nothing like the competitive risk that it did in some of BHP’s other global constituencies. Rather he suggested that our inability to put the relationship between capital and labour on a more productive footing was a competitive advantage surrendered.
But, as America’s old king coal – Peabody Energy – continues to pass milestones of misery on its long march into Chapter 11, it becomes ever clearer that in coal the specifics of industrial relations remain an existential issue and Mackenzie’s team knows it.
On March 1, a BHP-led negotiating team met with representatives of the three Queensland coal unions at Moranbah, a company town built in 1969 to service a growing fleet of mines owned by US-based Utah Mining. Everyone was there to discuss the 2016 BMA enterprise agreement.
BMA is owned in equal halves by BHP and Mitsubishi. But, unlike some other joint ventures in its global suite, the coking coal business is managed directly by BHP people. What goes on at BMA is, then, absolutely indicative of the BHP zeitgeist.
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