Monday, December 08, 2008

BHP $Billion – Bloody Hungry Profiteer

The Broken Hill Proprietary Company (BHP) was established in 1885 at the silver, lead and zinc mine at Broken Hill in western New South Wales.

It became one of Australia’s largest monopolies; indeed, it was known as “the big Australian”.

It was also known as a ruthless blood-sucking mongrel of an employer, Bloody Hungry for Profits and rabidly anti-worker.

In 2001 it merged with British imperialist giant Billiton to become BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company, with dual headquarters in London and Melbourne.

As the merged company, BHP $Billion continues in the oppressive and reactionary footsteps of its predecessor.

BHP demands protection from liability for asbestos compensation

Its latest crime against its workers is to demand of the “pro-business, pro-growth and pro-mining” South Australian Labor government that it weaken laws on asbestos compensation introduced by the same government in January 2006.

Emboldened by Labor’s rebadging as a party of corporate whoredom, as a party slurping from the trough of crony capitalism, as the party that trashed injured workers’ entitlements to fair compensation earlier this year, as the party that has slashed corporate taxes in its last couple of Budgets, as the party that has acted with unrestrained bellicosity towards the education workers' union in their year-long dispute over pay and funding, BHP $Billion obviously believes it is in with a chance of getting Labor to cave in to big corporate pressure.

The 2006 Act has two features that are of particular concern to BHP $Billion.

The first is that it defines 1971 as the year from which employers can be expected to have known of the dangers of asbestos.

The company wants this brought forward to 1979, just coincidentally the year after which it closed the Whyalla shipyards where thousands of its employees were exposed to asbestos and from whom there has been a steady stream of asbestos-related compensation claims. Changing the date would absolve BHP $Billion from liability for these claims.

The second feature is that the Act provides for “exemplary damages” above and beyond normal compensation claims to be awarded against any employer who knew of the dangers of asbestos and failed to protect its workers.

The Bloody Hungry Profiteer says that the two provisions make the SA Dust Diseases Act 2005 unfair, “manifestly unjust”, for employers.

Perhaps we should pause for a moment here and reach for the tissue box!

Labor a party of capitalism and will serve business interests

The recent track record of the so-called Labor government has caused asbestos victims support groups to fear that the ugly demands of BHP $Billion might just be achievable.

Asbestos Victims Association SA president Terry Miller said he was worried that the government would be swayed by BHP $Billion’s demands. “The way I read BHP’s submission is that they want the whole thing (the Act) revamped…they knew what dangers (asbestos) caused…it makes me angry…”

Greens MLC Mark Parnell said he was appalled at BHP's submission.

"I thought it was contemptible, BHP Billiton's profit last year was about the size of Australia's surplus until recently ... they can afford to compensate their former workers," Mr Parnell said.

`The Greens will not be supporting any such changes."

In August, BHP Billiton recorded an annual net profit of $17.7 billion.

Workers see through BHP $Billion

Former Whyalla shipyards workers are not fooled by BHP $Billiton. Des, of Edinburgh (SA), stated, “Having worked in the Whyalla shipyard for nearly 20 years, scraping asbestos from underneath decks, bulkheads etc to allow marking holes, ports etc and carrying asbestos blankets to protect timber under the ships to allow burning we were never given any protective clothing at all. I am waiting for my turn to come and try and put as much into my family’s life as I can now before it hits me. My brother in law has recently been diagnosed with it.”

Dave Reynolds of Salisbury East wrote of watching his father die from mesothelioma, “Having watched my father literally suffocate to death in front of his family’s eyes at the hands of Mesothelioma, all the while fighting to gain some sort of compensation to allow him the drugs, care and equipment that should rightly have been afforded to him. The respondent in his claim was, surprise surprise.....The Government......FACT:- During his trial evidence was given that they knew of the dangers of asbestos as early as the 1920's and 30's THIS IS IRREFUTABLE FACT, so how can they rightly argue that they didn’t know. Now we are going to ask the government to rule on whether business knew in 1979, what a joke.....they knew and in their own interest to save further litigation, I bet they rule in favour of the big end of town, denying natural justice to those to follow after my father.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by Amanda Day of Mt Gambier, who said “As a daughter of an Asbestos Victim I cannot believe that this is still being argued. The plain fact is that you only get Mesothelioma and other related diseases from ingesting Asbestos. This is a well known fact and has been since the 1950's but still it was allowed to be mined and put in products. There is no price on a life as far as I am concerned and BHP should hang their heads in shame. Walk a mile in the shoes of an Asbestos Victim or actually have to see your father die a slow painful death and then talk to me about compensation. Shame on you.”

Garry Haylock, whose wife Melissa died earlier this year of mesothelioma, said he was not surprised that victims' rights were still unclear.

"Nothing surprises me in politics or big business ... big businesses do not have morals, all they are interested in is profits for the shareholders, who are always screaming out for more," Mr Haylock said.

These are the voices of the Australian working class.

These are people who have had a genuine need for the tissue box, unlike BHP $Billion.

We will now see who the SA Labor government listens to, although the hedging mealy-mouthed response from Attorney-General Michael Atkinson’s spokeswoman that "at this stage (our emphasis) he is not minded to alter the provision of exemplary damages" but that he would have to consider all submissions before making a final decision, points in the direction of yet another eventual sell-out of workers’ rights.

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