Strike risks turning away buyers

THE prolonged industrial dispute in the Bowen Basin has cast uncertainty in the international coal market with buyers potentially looking elsewhere.

Professor of economics and associate dean of University of Queensland's Business, Economics and Law faculty John Mangan said the Chinese and Japanese markets were paternalistic and promoted loyalty within their companies.

He said the impact of the 18-month CFMEU and BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance dispute could strain foreign investments.

Prof Magnan said the Japanese market in particular was at risk of looking to alternative coal suppliers.

"Both models - the Chinese and Japanese - are paternalistic and they want stability," Prof Mangan said.

"They want a situation whereby there is a sort of company loyalty where there isn't going to be strikes and sabotage.

"My opinion is that they (BMA) should be more conciliatory and should adopt a more long-run perspective."

Prof Mangan likened the enterprise agreement negotiations to the Qantas dispute, where the grounding of the entire fleet did little but drop the company share price dramatically.

He said Norwich Park's closure was a drastic but potentially strategic move and predicted any attempt by BMA to de-unionise and reopen the pit would be condemned by both the Australian and international market.

"The unions bring a labour workforce, a sort of discipline, and a relative sort of stability," he said.

"The unions are saying it is about safety and job security.

"There is no doubt no one wants to lose face after an 18-month dispute, which is where it is at. I think a lot of it is personality-driven."

Prof Mangan said the non-militancy of the Wesfarmers Curragh dispute, which was resolved with no strike action and very little media coverage, emphasised the brutality of the BMA and CFMEU row.

"You can't underestimate the intelligence of overseas investors," he said.

"Obviously that looks strange and it seems to me that there is a bit of a personality clash."

Predicting the end of the dispute was near, he said one of two things was possible.

"Another mine will close, which is the ultimate defence of the company, or after 18 months of not getting anything, an agreement will be made with the workers saying, 'we may as well'," he said.

Prof Mangan said workers would be feeling the financial pinch and the company understood unions didn't have access to unlimited finances.

The CFMEU declined to comment but it is understood report-back meetings to each of the six Bowen Basin sites will be held across the next two weeks.

On Monday, Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said the mining boom was over, with the premium prices the Chinese market had been paying for coal now gone.

Mr Ferguson said the only way Australia could maintain the resources revenue stream was to expand capacity and update technology.

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