THE coalminer strike that threatens to hobble BHP Billiton's Bowen Basin operations could last a week if nothing changes.
A trio of the industry's most powerful unions - the CFMEU, AMWU and ETU - have been in hard-fought negotiations with the BMA arm of the mining giant for about 16 months.
But a change of tact by BMA had roster arrangements brought back into the fray and workers have left the coalface.
According to the union, up to 90% of BMA's workforce in Central Queensland are members of these unions and involved in the strike action.
Company management and sub-contractors however may still be operating on site, although some may opt not to cross the picket lines.
Each of BMA's seven mines in the Bowen Basin - west of Mackay and Rockhampton - are affected.
These are Goonyella Riverside, Broadmeadow, Peak Downs, Saraji, Norwich Park, Gregory Crinum and Blackwater.
CFMEU district president Stephen Smyth said it will hold meetings with delegates on Friday ahead of meetings with workers next week.
From there, the action could be extended.
"The level of contempt (BHP) is showing for their workers is astonishing," Mr Smythe said.
"I think their behaviour is disingenous and deceitful.
"It's now very clear that BHP's corporate headquarters are calling the shots and they seem unconcerned about safety or family-friendly rosters.
"For them it's just ensuring they can squeeze all they can from this mining boom ahead of all else.
Workers walked from the site at 6pm Tuesday following a lunchtime decision to withdraw labour.
This dispute has little to do with the wages of those in the mining industry, with the unions explaining it was about safety concerns, rostering and a "fair deal" for mine sub-contractors.
Up for discussion is whether safety inspector roles should be filled by the mine's managers.
This has traditionally been the domain of the unions, which are now concerned that productivity targets from above could cloud the judgement of these new inspectors.
The unions also believe that BHP is trying to strong-arm its heavily-unionised Queensland workers so their Western Australian counterparts do not fight for the same rights.
BMA president Stephen Dumble said it would take the negotiation straight to the workers in an employee ballot.
"We want to build a business focused on the future with more opportunity and choice for our employees," Mr Dumble said.
"The benefits of the agreement are competitive and provide a pathway to a better future.
"BMA will be asking employees to judge whether the agreement provides a fair and competitive outcome for them, their families and their future."
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