Coal mining 'casuals' debate revives with BHP set to announce change at Muswellbrook's Mt Arthur

THE battle over set-roster "casual" coal mining may have taken a decisive turn with BHP set to fill up to 30 vacancies at its Mt Arthur mine near Muswellbrook with permanent workers.

ACM confirmed that news of the impending job announcement spread from a "State of the Nation" address - a meeting given to a full shift of mine workers.

It is understood a mine manager told these crews that expressions of interest were about to open to fill these vacant positions.

ACM was told the impending announcement was a "show of good faith to employees, and is in no way related to Operations Services".

The reference to Operations Services relates to a mobile workforce BHP set up in late 2018, which critics including the CFMMEU describe as BHP's "in-house labour hire company".

Mt Arthur's workforce has long been split between those employed directly by BHP and those working for substantially less money through labour hire firms such as Chandler Macleod.

Operations Services was introduced last year at Mt Arthur, also paying substantially less than the new jobs will pay under BHP's Mt Arthur enterprise agreement.

The mooted Mt Arthur changes follow the elevation of new BHP CEO, Mike Henry, had held various senior coal roles in BHP since joining the company from Mitsubishi in 2001.

Mr Henry succeeded Andrew Mackenzie, who had run BHP since 2013.

CFMMEU mining division northern district president Peter Jordan said the union wanted more detail from BHP about "numbers and time lines".

"This recognises the move to a casualised, contract workforce at Mount Arthur has been a disaster, leading to high turnover, workplace division and a poor safety record," he explained.

Sources outside of BHP have said that similar changes are under discussion in Queensland, where BHP operates nine mines producing metallurgical or coking coal for steelmaking.

Seven of these mines - Goonyella Riverside, Broadmeadow, Daunia, Peak Downs, Saraji, Blackwater and Caval Ridge - are owned in a 50/50 partnership with Mitsubishi.

The other two South Walker Creek and Poitrel - are owned 80/20 by BHP with Mitsui as the junior partner.

On Monday afternoon, Mt Arthur Coal (MAC) general manager Adam Lancey said he could see a clear opportunity to improve productivity and collaboration across the site.

"To recognise the commitment to our Enterprise Agreement (EA) workforce, we want to offer a number of permanent positions covered by the Mt Arthur EA," he explained.

"It's important to me, amidst change and challenging market conditions, that we can rely on a strong group of capable and engaged employees.

"This recruitment process will also provide us with the much-needed opportunity, where appropriate, to retain great talent at MAC from our apprentices and trainees who, in the past, have not had a clear career pathway into our operation following their training.

"In the coming days, we will open internal Expressions of Interest (EOI) for 30 roles across site, in a staged approach, based on recent attrition.

"Candidates will be able to express their interest in the roles via online application and the link will be shared in due course.

"Over the past few days, media outlets have speculated on the number of EA roles to be filled and made comment on our labour strategy at Mt Arthur Coal.

"It is disappointing that we cannot have conversations with our employees without the media being made aware of those conversations.

"My preference is to communicate directly with employees about our operation, such as last week's State of the Nation sessions in production and announcements such as this one, which was planned for my return from annual leave.

"Direct communication ensures we are all given accurate information and not simply rumour or speculation, which is often what happens when pieces of information - sometimes taken out of context - are shared externally.

"In no way does this announcement put in question our commitment to Operations Services or our contracted workforce through Chandler Macleod and Thiess.

"Operations Services now has the resources to operate its third and fourth fleet on site.

"Our contractor workforce remains an integral part of our business, and we are committed to the ongoing success of our partnership with Thiess in MAC South.

"This announcement recognises the importance of our existing EA workforce to our operation.

"We need all teams to be safe and productive, and ultimately working together to ensure the long term viability of Mt Arthur Coal.

"I look forward to continuing to work together this year to uphold Mt Arthur Coal as a great place to work in the Hunter Valley."