10 coal mines sueing CFMEU

QUEENSLAND'S most powerful mining union is being sued by 10 Central Queensland coal mines for a total of almost $2.4 million.

The Construction Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's mining and energy division is facing allegations from mines, either owned or part-owned by BHP Billiton, that one of the union's safety representatives unlawfully forced the mines to halt operations.

BHP claimed the stoppage on February 22, 2010, lasted between six and eight hours at its mines, costing it hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost wages and coal sales.

For Moranbah's Goonyella Riverside, BHP believes the work shutdown cost more than $144,000 in wages alone.

In documents submitted to the Federal Court in December, BHP alleged CFMEU industry safety and health representative Tim Whyte unlawfully shut down the mines believing a new fatigue plan from BHP was unsafe for its workers.

According to its claim, mine executives and the Queensland Government's chief inspector of mines asked Mr Whyte to withdraw the orders, but BHP believes those were dismissed. The documents indicate the chief inspector eventually cancelled the orders himself.

Because BHP's case includes claims the union's divisional president, Stephen Smyth, endorsed the shutdown, Mr Whyte and Mr Smyth are also subject to the case as individuals.

Safety representatives are endowed by the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act with the power to immediately stop work for a "safety and health purpose".

By law, using this power for any other reason could result in a penalty of up to $4400.


BHP's claim includes: 

  • Goonyella Riverside and Broadmeadow: $666,000 (including $169,597.25 of wages for 6.5hrs).
  • Peak Downs Mine: $346,000 ($59,583 in wages for 6.5hrs).
  • Saraji: $396,000 ($83,625.96 in wages for 6hrs).
  • Norwich Park (now mothballed): $243,000 ($42,545.10 in wages).
  • Gregory and Crinum: $209,000 ($24,866.20 for eight hours)
  • Blackwater: $294,000 ($11,090 wages for 6.5hrs)
  • Poitrel: $128,000 (details not released)
  • South Walker Creek: $110,000 ($26,975 as described by operator Leightons).
  • TOTAL: $2,392,000

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