Japanese investors edgy over Australian mining disputes

Japanese investors are becoming increasingly anxious over industrial relations in the Australian mining sector, in the wake of a long-standing dispute involving Mitsubishi (Tokyo:8058) and BHP (ASX:BHP) Queensland coal operations which has now entered its 19th month.

Japanese steelmakers and trading companies raised their concerns during discussions in Tokyo with Queensland Treasurer and Trade Minister Tim Nicholls,on a trip to solicit investment for coal and coal-seam gas projects.

According to Rick Wallace writing in the Australian, Japanese parties have been perturbed by the intensity of the row between striking workers and mining companies:

A source close to the dispute said the Japanese firms affected were shocked by the intensity of the dispute, during which police were called to investigate allegations of vandalism and abuse as tensions rose between striking workers and a minority choosing to continue to work.

The dispute between workers and BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance in the Bowen Basin has now entered its 19th month, after kicking off in January last year during negotiations between the unions and BMA on a new enterprise agreement.

BMA is Australia's largest coal producer, operating a slew of mines in Queensland which supply coking coal to Japan's key steel producers. The company accounts for over a quarter of Australia's coal exports, as well as 28% of the world's seaborne trade in metallurgical coal.

Japanese parties have raised these concerns at an especially sensitive period for industrial relations in the Queensland mining sector, with Rio Tinto announcing major lay-offs at its Clermont Mine following a fall in coal prices.