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Sacked BHP mine manager says he did right thing
Isak Buitendag. Picture: Steve Ferrier/The West Australian

The former general manager of the Ravensthorpe Nickel West Project is suing BHP Billiton for $2 million in the Supreme Court over alleged unfair dismissal.

Isak Buitendag was sacked in January 2009, a day before BHP Billiton announced the mine closure, over claims he had failed to follow asset disposal procedures.

It followed his move to donate a BHP Billiton-owned transportable property to a local sports club where he had been a member.

In 2009, Mr Buitendag, who was on an annual salary of $288,000, was also forced to deny claims from BHP Billiton that that he had stolen poly piping from the mine site for the clay shooting sports club.

The dismissal of the popular community leader prompted a local outcry, with townspeople gathering at his house over the following days to support him.

The case came to represent the bitter disappointment in Hopetoun over the mothballing of the mine site in early 2009, which put 1800 people out of work.

The mine was later sold for $340 million to Canadian resource giant First Quantum and re-opened in 2010.

His lawyer, Gordon Ritter, told the Supreme Court yesterday that Mr Buitendag had not breached company procedures because he had permission from BHP stainless-steel materials president Jimmy Wilson to donate the transportable farmhouse to the sporting club.

The farmhouse was one of six homes which were in a buffer zone surrounding the mine and BHP Billiton had planned to demolish them before Mr Buitendag arranged for at least two to be donated to local sports clubs.

Mr Ritter said Mr Buitendag had disclosed his interest as a member of the Hopetoun Clay Target Club to Mr Wilson, who said it was not a concern.

The court was told that Mr Buitendag had served as a valued employee for 16 years with BHP Billiton and related companies, despite two minor disciplinary measures that were recorded against him during his time at the Ravensthorpe mine.

The case is expected to run for nine more days in the Supreme Court.