After six months of uncertainty, BHP has finally sold off two of its Queensland coal mines – including one of the largest open cuts in the country. Thankfully, it’s great news for workers.

The buyer, Whitehaven, has committed to retaining all current, directly employed permanent workers under their current Agreement, including transitioning 400 Operations Services labour hire workers to permanent direct employment. This will lead to a significant boost in pay, conditions and job security for OS workers.

BHP pioneered the practice of undercutting EAs with labour hire, and then took it to shameful new lows with their sham in-house provider Operations Services. Their exit will ensure a fairer future for workers at Blackwater and Daunia.

BHP likes to throw around threats around removing investment in Queensland coal. But it’s our view that if BHP doesn’t want to mine our fantastic natural resources, they should get out of the way and let someone else do it.

At Blackwater and Daunia, we say good riddance to BHP.

The process of finding a buyer has been needlessly drawn out and anxiety-provoking for the affected workers, but they can now move on knowing their jobs are secure and the mines have a committed new operator.

Nearly four hundred OS workers and their families can look forward to a substantial improvement to their pay and conditions; permanently employed workforce can rest assured that their existing pay and conditions will be retained. The MEU will continue to push for permanent jobs for other labour hire workers on site.

The sale of Daunia and Blackwater comes after the sale of South Walker Creek and Poitrel mines to Stanmore Coal in 2021. BHP is trying to spin this move in an attempt to influence state policy. They have stated that they are ‘unable to make significant new growth investments in Queensland’ until the state does away with ‘uncompetitive’ policy, such as the increase to the coal royalties rate.

In reality, the sale four of its nine Bowen Basin coal mines in the last two years is entirely to do with BHP seeking to exit the coal industry rather than the range of issues BHP publicly complains about, like fairer work laws and royalties.

BHP’s employment practices are a matter close to my heart. I began my working life as an apprentice diesel fitter at BHP’s Saraji Mine and worked there for the majority of my mining career until I was elected as a union representative in 2012.

In my time in the industry, both as a coal mine worker and an official of the MEU I have seen the steady increased use of labour hire in the industry. When I started in the Industry at Saraji most workers were employed directly through BHP. Now, I estimate the number of permanently employed to be somewhere around 40%.

That’s why I was pleased to represent Queensland coal mineworkers at the Senate Hearing into the Closing Loopholes Bill in Rockhampton at the end of October. BHP has complained long and loud about these laws and their employment practices were in the spotlight.

BHP have stated that this bill will cost $1.3 billion to their bottom line. I take that as an admission that they have been underpaying workers and they know it. BHP also claim that they are champions of diversity, yet they continue to focus their employment of women and indigenous workers through Operations Services on lower pay and conditions, adding to the gender pay gap.

This Union has been fighting to end the labour hire rort for over a decade, through the courts and in the workplace. But we have been fighting with one hand tied behind our back due to major loopholes in Australia’s industrial laws. We are now closer than ever to stopping this rort and we are urging the Senate to pass the Closing Loopholes Bill.

While we are very pleased Operations Services workers at Daunia and Blackwater getting the opportunity for permanent EA jobs so they can earn the same as the workers alongside them; this must be a right extended to all labour hire workers in our industry.

Mitch Hughes

Acting President Mining and Energy Union Queensland District.