Around 3,500 union workers at Australia's BHP Billiton-Mitsubishi Alliance, the world's biggest producer of metallurgical coal, plan several work stoppages next week but are not planning wider strike action at this stage, a union official said.
The workers plan several six-hour work stoppages next week but also plan to continue negotiations with the BHP Billiton and Mitsubishi owned joint ventured on June 21-22 over a new enterprise agreement, Steve Smyth, Queensland president of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union said on Thursday.
"At this stage all we plan are stop-work meetings, not full strike actions," Smyth told Reuters. "These stoppages are for the purpose of talking to our members en masse," he said.
The unions have given notice of stop work meetings scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday at the Norwich Park, Blackwater, Gregory Crinum, Goonyella, Saraji and Peak Downs mines.
Union workers at the Broadmeadow colliery already hold separate agreements with the alliance and will not participate in the stoppages, according to Smyth.
Smyth said he expects the stoppages to have some impact on production but could not say to what degree.
Smyth said workers will look to reopen talks over the role of non-union contractors, who outnumber union staff.
BHP Billiton in a statement said BMA did not intend to replace employees' jobs with contractors and urged workers to rethink their stoppage plans.
A spokeswoman for BHP Billiton declined to discuss any contingency plans BMA may be considering in the event of industrial action.
Disruptions to the mines could impact the Australian economy adversely — the mines have a combined production capacity of more than 58 million tonnes per year, with nearly all of their output shipped overseas for steel production.
Coal is Australia's largest export and exports of metallurgical coal accounts for A$24.5 billion of the nation's A$202.17 billion in total goods exports last year, according to government data.
Queensland state lost up to 30 million tonnes of coal production when monsoon rains and a cyclone battered the eastern seaboard between November and February, exacting a high financial toll on the national economy.
The drop, equivalent to 15 percent of annual output, has curbed economic growth and exacerbated a worldwide shortfall of coal.