January 23, 2009
On January 21, BHP-Billiton – “the big Australian” – announced the sacking of 3400 workers across Australia . The company will close its Ravensthorpe nickel mine and downgrade its Mt Keith nickel sulphide mine in Western Australia. It will slash jobs at a nickel refinery and slash production of coking coal in Queensland. It will also sack 200 workers as a result of abandoning a proposed expansion of the Olympic Dam in South Australia.
In the 2007-08 financial year, BHP registered profits of $15.4 billion. While the company has been hit by the global slump in commodity prices, its profit outlook for 2008-09 still remains rosy, with an expectation of $13.3 billion according to the January 20 Herald Sun.
“Neither the federal government nor the ACTU should stand for BHP now crying poor and sacking so many workers at the cost of lives and communities”, Margarita Windisch, Socialist Alliance national co-convenor said. “They should insist that BHP open its accounts to public scrutiny.
“It should be up to BHP’s workers and the communities that service its facilities to decide what is a ‘reasonable’ profit – not BHP shareholders.”
Windisch added: “BHP-Billiton is hardly on the brink of collapse. The ‘big Australian’ has made billions over the years on the back of Australian workers. It also received millions of dollars of public money in the 1980s from the federal Steel Plan, which it used to restructure and sack workers.
For the Socialist Alliance spokesperson the response from the federal Labor government has been “underwhelming”. Calling an immediate press conference, federal treasurer Wayne Swann described BHP’s actions as “a tragedy” and a “sobering reminder” of the evaporation of the mining boom, but promised nothing.
Yet, apart from the immediate impact on the sacked workers, BHP’s decision will also devastate regional towns in WA and Queensland.
Windisch said: “The town of Hopetoun, which services the Ravensworth mine has been left in tatters by BHP’s decision. Families with large mortgages now face the prospect of their homes being virtually worthless and being saddled with debts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“If BHP is really near collapse, the federal government should step-in and nationalise it without compensation to large investors. Too many workers, too many families, too many communities are affected by BHP’s actions to allow this decision to be made by the bean-counters.”
Windisch concluded: “Where BHP has been affected by the global resources slow-down, it should be obligated to share the necessary work around all existing workers, without loss in pay.
“The Rudd government should also insist that BHP fully reimburses all workers for the cost of lost value of homes, the cost of relocation and retraining on full pay where necessary. For years BHP has had its hand in the pockets of the Australian taxpayer. It’s time that the BHP gave that money back to the community, starting with its own workforce.”
Comment: Margarita Windisch 0438 869 790