BHP train drivers reject pay offer

Kim Macdonald
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BHP train drivers reject pay offer

Off the rails: BHP train drivers have rejected a pay offer. Picture: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

Pay negotiations between rail drivers and BHP Billiton have hit a stumbling block, after the miner failed to meet union demands for guaranteed pay rises, cheap Pilbara rental homes and extra annual leave.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy union said yesterday BHP Billiton's three-year pay offer was rejected by about 60 per cent of the 350 rail drivers.

Negotiations began a year ago, in what is believed to have been a bid by the company to finalise an agreement before workers became eligible for legal strike action in the middle of this year.

CFMEU mining division secretary Gary Wood said the offer was rejected because the company would not meet a key demand for guaranteed annual pay rises of 4 or 5 per cent.

Mr Wood said workers did not trust BHP Billiton's offer for performance-based annual increases, claiming the company could unfairly punish some workers at whim.

He said the company did not meet its other key demand for the fly-in, fly-out workers to get an extra four hours of annual leave for every swing, to compensate them for travel time to and from site.

This could add an extra week or two to annual leave each year, depending on each worker's roster.

Mr Wood said it was unfair that the drivers had to travel to and from site during their rest and recreation leave, but some white-collar staff got to travel on company time. The third key demand was for cheap rental accommodation for 50 Port Hedland-based rail drivers in BHP Billiton-owned housing.

In return, the Pilbara staff would give up an existing $1800 weekly allowance for offsite accommodation.

Mr Wood said rental homes cost more than $2000 a week in Port Hedland and workers feared rents could rocket further.

The recent return of unions to the negotiating table in the Pilbara had prompted widespread fears of outrageous demands, but Mr Wood said the union demands were proof it was being responsible.

BHP Billiton declined to comment.

It invited the union to start negotiations in May last year, after a landmark win by the union in mid 2011, which allowed them to bargain on behalf of workers at the miner's Pilbara operations.