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By Rebekah Kebede
PERTH, June 8 Miners at Australia's BHP Billiton
Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA), the world's biggest exporter of
metallurgical coal, voted on Wednesday to strike, likely early
next week, a union official said on Wednesday.
"Monday and Tuesday, it looks like strike action is going to
take place ... 4,000 workers are going to take strike," an
official for the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union
The official said he could not confirm the length of the
strike, which would be the first industrial action at BMA mines
in more than a decade. The four thousand workers make up about
two-thirds of BMA's total workforce at the mines.
A prolonged strike could hike metallurgical prices, raising
costs for Asian steelmakers, though BHP, which has long lobbied
to move to monthly from quarterly contracts may not be in a
hurry to settle, according to one analyst.
"While 2011 third quarter monthly price contract talks
continue - BHP/BMA will be in no rush to settle... it actually
benefits from the supply tension that this dispute creates," Tom
Price, a commodities analyst with UBS said in a note earlier
The strike would hit BHP Billiton just as
Australia's coal mining sector, which supplies nearly two-thirds
of the world's traded steel-making coal and more than 10 percent
of the country's goods exports, was getting back on its feet
after heavy Southern Hemisphere summer rains forced several
mines to declare force majeure on exports.
Coal miners have complained about different pay levels for
union workers and non-union contractors and are worried over job
security, according to the union. [ID:nL3E7H3017]
Union workers voted in favour of the right to strike late
last week, but gave no indication that an industrial action was
imminent and union officials had held out the possibility of a
strike only as a last resort if talks with the alliance broke
BHP Billiton said it has tried to accelerate negotiations by
offering a 5 percent annual pay increase and a A$5,000 signing
bonus for those who sign a new agreement with the company.
"BMA is extremely disappointed that the unions have elected
to take this unnecessarily aggressive action," a BHP spokeswoman
said late Wednesday.
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($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
(Reporting by Rebekah Kebede; Editing by Ed Lane)