MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Tough times' for BHP - BHP boss defends IR stance

Published by MAC on 2003-11-13

'Tough times' for BHP - BHP boss defends IR stance

ABC NEWS ONLINE

November 13, 2003

BHP Billiton chairman Don Argus is defending the company's right to refuse collective bargaining agreements to new employees, particularly in Western Australia's Pilbara region.

Unions are concerned the practice of forcing new employees to sign individual agreements will erode their power to collectively bargain and breaches company commitments made to the United Nations.

Mr Argus told shareholders at the annual general meeting it is standard practice in Western Australia's iron ore industry and productivity has increased since adopting it.

He says all employees still have the right to join a union. But outside the meeting, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's Tony Maher disagreed.

"The letter from the United Nations says that's right at the time of signing, but they're expected to comply over time and BHP has got themselves between a rock and a hard place," he said. "Quite clearly they have to change their practices in Western Australia, or renounce the global compact."

Meanwhile the company has guaranteed the company will not mine West Papua's Gag Island should it join the World Heritage list of protected sites. But it has refused to rule out any ventures in the area prior to protection being granted.

Mr Argus has strongly denied any knowledge of the company placing pressure on the Indonesian Government to allow it to mine the area.

Outside, media personality and shareholder Andrew Denton raised doubts about that.

"In Parliament last year the Foreign Minister said that the Australian Government had spoken to the Indonesian government on several occasions at the request of mining companies including BHP, to change their mining laws, so that specifically there could be mining on Gag Island," he said. Gag Island is currently being considered for World Heritage listing.

And Mr Argus has refused to be drawn on demands he further explain the departure of former chief executive Brian Gilbertson. Earlier, shareholders were told the global economic situation continues to challenge the company's bottom line.

Mr Argus told shareholders a weak global economy combined with the rising Australian dollar has made it a tough year for the company. He said a recent rally in prices for commodities such as nickel, copper and oil was going some way towards alleviating the pressure. "We should expect a continuation of the... improving environment for commodities," he said.

The company posted a net annual profit in August of $3.2 billion.

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