Interview: The New Democrat
Bad Boss: The Ugly Australian
Unions: Free Spirits and Slaves
Industrial: National Focus
History: A Class Act
International: Across the Ditch
Economics: Home Truths
Review: No Time Like Tomorrow
Poetry: Silent Note
The Locker Room
Last Year’s Model
The Ugly Australian
As Pilbara families mourn and the State Government announces an "independent" inquiry into BHP Billiton safety procedures, the Big Australian has unveiled plans to double the speeds of monster trucks and do away with "safety spotters".
The move to speed up "haul paks" roaming its Mount Whaleback mine, in the Pilbara, is being opposed by workers from a range of unions.
BHP Billiton wants speed limits increased from 30 to 60kph around the iron ore pit, and to reduce the number of safety spotters, charged with preventing the crushing of human beings.
Prior to its latest initiative, BHP had already been accused of "putting production before safety" by ACTU Pilbara organiser, Will Tracey, and representatives of the AMWU and CFMEU.
They spoke after the May 2 death of Port Nelson iron ore facility delegate, Cory Bentley, and before incidents that claimed the lives of Boodarie tradesman, James Wadley, and Iron Ore Body 25 apprentice, Ross McKinnon.
Wadley sustained burns to more than 90 percent of his body when a gas explosion ripped through the BHP Hot Briquetted Plant. Royal Flying Doctor Service aircraft from Derby, Meekatharra and nearby Port Hedland had to be mobilised to transport injured workers to hospitals.
Three of Wadley's former workmates are still in hospital recovering from burns.
McKinnon lost his life when he was struck in the head by a "piece of equipment" at a mine, near Newman, operated for BHP by Henry Walker Eltin.
Tracey told Workers Online the deaths followed a "number of near misses" at the company's Pilbara facilities.
He claimed safety standards had "plummeted" in the five years since BHP moved to drive organised labour out of its operations.
In 1999, the resources giant took it on itself to lead the push to deunionise the Pilbara, luring 40 percent of its workforce onto non-union federal AWAs, courtesy of salary packages $10,000 to $20,000 a year better than it was prepared to offer trade unionists.
On top, it whacked up super payments from eight to 14 percent of gross earnings.
Tracey said, inevitably, there was a catch. Significant elements of annual earnings would come from company-evaluated performance reviews.
"The thing with these individual contracts is that they inhibit people from speaking out on safety for fear of being hammered in performance reviews," Tracey said.
"Anyone who speaks out on safety is labelled a trouble-maker."
As Bentley was being buried in Perth, company representatives began removing posters from Port Nelson that urged workers to higher production levels.
"Aim high, move fast" was their central message. They carried graphs outlining how far workers had fallen behind massive targets set by management.
"The countdown is now on," the posters read. "Between January and December 2004 the Port must ship 100 million tonnes of ore."
Workers at a mass meeting passed a unanimous resolution calling for an independent safety audit of all BHP's Pilbara operations. When Wadley and McKinnon were killed less than three weeks later, the state government signalled its agreement.
BHP Billiton is one of the world's biggest minerals companies with interests across the resources sector. It stands to make an absolute killing from the deepening oil crisis but its Pilbara activities mark in down as a Bad Boss natural.
The Tony was crafted as a reminder of Tony Abbott's commitment to absolute employer power. In the Pilbara, at least, BHP Billiton tries to live the dream.
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