BHP Billiton has threatened to take the union representing coal train drivers to court in response to proposed strike action next week over stalled wage talks.
BHP Mt Arthur Coal general manager Mark van den Heuvel has written to the Rail, Tram and Bus Industry Union saying the company will take ‘‘all necessary steps’’ including legal action to prevent harm to its business from any industrial action.
The threat is similar to one made last year by Xstrata Coal when train drivers working for Pacific National went on strike in response to a stalemate in their salary negotiations.
Coal train drivers based in the Hunter who work for Aurizon say the company has refused to budge in their negotiations since May last year.
They have threatened a 24-hour stoppage on Tuesday and another on Thursday if the company does not return to the negotiating table. A ban on overtime will also be in place this weekend.
On Wednesday, the RTBU received a warning letter from BHP, which relies on Aurizon’s coal freight service to move its coal supply from Mt Arthur Coal Mine to Newcastle coal terminals.
In his letter to the union, Mr van den Heuvel said any industrial action by Aurizon employees will cause harm to the mine’s business by delaying the supply of coal to customers.
‘‘As you will appreciate, particularly in the current economic climate being experienced in the coalmining industry, it is not in the interests of the members of the RTBU or other workers in the industry, for industrial action to be taken which will cause harm to that industry,’’ he said.
RTBU national secretary Bob Nanva said the rights of the workforce to a ‘‘fair and reasonable’’ pay increase was at stake.
‘‘This is multinational greed at its worst. We’re seeing a full court press from massive, highly profitable companies who are trying to deny a workforce of 200 train drivers their legitimate right to collectively bargain,’’ Mr Nanva said.
‘‘This issue is no longer about Aurizon workers and their agreement. It’s about the right of workers in the Hunter and across Australia to collectively bargain without fear, threats or intimidation.’’
A spokeswoman for Aurizon said the company is extremely disappointed the RTBU had decided to take industrial action when ‘‘there is a generous deal on the table’’.
‘‘This action will cause significant disruption and cost to our customers and the broader coal industry in NSW, as well as hurting the local economy in the Newcastle and the Hunter Valley,’’ she said.
‘‘A 48-hour strike effectively becomes 72 hours of lost production because it takes about 12 hours to close down operations and 12 hours to re-start our business.’’
The Aurizon proposal included a reduction in working hours for train drivers, increases in long service leave, a 12per cent wage increase over three years and a $2000 one-off cash payment.