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Thousands of Workers Strike at BHP

November 19, 2001

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ More than 4,000 workers at mining giant BHP Billiton on Monday went on strike for 24 hours as part of a dispute over planned staff cuts.

BHP Steel staff at Port Kembla, 60 miles south of Sydney, agreed to the strike at a meeting Monday to discuss the company’s plan to change provisions to packages paid to workers forced out of their jobs.

The dispute follows a 24-hour walkout last month by the steelworkers.

Australian Workers’ Union organizer Andy Gillespie said Monday’s walkout would be followed from next week by strikes at BHP plants across the country.

Gillespie said job security was paramount for Australia’s steelworkers.

``This dispute is not about the money. It’s a question of job security,″ he said.

Lance Hockridge, president of BHP flat products at Port Kembla, said Monday’s strike would cost the company $780,000 in lost production.

Hockridge said under the current package offered to laid off workers, BHP provides retraining and helps them find other employment for an indefinite period. BHP is seeking to have that period defined as three months.

``We believe that three months is in fact a very generous time frame,″ he said. ``There are very, very few employers out there ... who will carry surplus employees for fully three months.″

Hockridge said BHP will continue to negotiate with unions over the plans.

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