When it rains, it pours for BHP: leaked e-mail heats up battle with coal mine unions

BHP Billiton would not be willing to negotiate with the unions on strike at its coal mines in Australia and had said the battle is "likely to get tougher before it's over", an e-mail published by ABC’s PM reveals.

In the e-mail BHP Billiton coal CEO Marcus Randolph said the dispute was non-negotiable — "not now, not next month, and not next year," he said.

According to the ABC, Randolph added the battle with unions on BMA's Queensland coal mines was "the fight we had to have".

In response to Randolph’s comments, CFMEU president Tony Maher released a statement saying the e-mail proves that BHP "never prepared to listen to its workers in Central Queensland". CFMEU is Australia’s main trade union in construction, forestry and forest products, mining and energy production.

"This shows the company went in with a strategy to purposely ignore its workforce, to enter negotiations with no intention whatsoever of listening to employee concerns," Maher added.

According to Australian Mining, BHP said the company “was committed to negotiating with the union and had already made progress on most of the concerns.”

"The company cannot, and will not, diminish its rights and obligations to manage the business, nor will we accept productivity-destroying arrangements as currently proposed by the unions," it said.

"Strike action will not change our position, as has been the case for the past eight months."

Last month, thousands of workers at seven of BHP's mines in Queensland's Bowen Basin launched a crusade of labour actions affecting the mines operated through the BMA joint venture between BHP and Mitsubishi Corporation. The industrial action has disrupted world supplies of coal and has not only affected mining, but also manufacturing and electrical unions.

The main stumbling block between the union and BHP, the world's largest mining company, is not wages, but proposed changes to work practices, along with a range of other issues including housing and union representation.