Mine strikers head back to work

THOUSANDS of mine workers at BHP Billiton's Central Queensland operations will head back to work today.

More than 4000 people have been on strike since March 27 after enterprise bargaining negotiations broke down in a 15-month long industrial dispute.

While workers will return to their jobs across seven mine sites, a ban on overtime is expected to stay in place.

But the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union or CFMEU say there will "definitely" be more industrial action before the end of the month.

The action affected all BMA sites in the Bowen Basin west of Mackay and Rockhampton.

For every day BHP Billiton is unable to export its coking coal, the company loses up to $20 million.

On Monday and Tuesday, CFMEU district president Stephen Smyth headed to Dysart, Moranbah, Emerald and Blackwater.

At those meetings, he said the union was again given a "mandate" to take whatever action was necessary to fight for workers and their rights.

On Monday night, BMA declared a "force majeure", a type of get-out-of-jail-free card when a company cannot meet its contracted conditions.

It is usually needed when a mine is struck by storms, flooding or damage is inflicted on its export facilities.

A BMA spokeswoman said "all Bowen Basin products" fell under the declaration, following the union's industrial action and heavy March rains.

The company took this route, in 2008, 2010 and 2011 following severe flooding and storms in Central Queensland.

Mr Smyth said the mining giant was showing contempt for its buyers by using industrial action to call a force majeure when it was not willing to negotiate.

"We're suspicious of everything that BHP does at the moment," Mr Smyth said.

"Obviously they're having issues with the coal supply but at the end of the day, with the force majeure, they're talking about things outside their power.

"They have the ability to enter negotiations.

"It's squarely on their shoulders."

Mr Smyth said a decision was yet to be made on what industrial action the union would take.

BMA declined to comment, but will take its proposed deal to the workers through a secret ballot towards the end of April.

Topics:  bhp billiton central queensland coal mines strike

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