March 28, 2023
In an important legal win, the Federal Court has found that BHP unfairly sacked a Workpac labour hire operator at one of BHP’s Queensland mines because he exercised his workplace rights by raising safety concerns.
The MEU member was employed casually by WorkPac and placed full-time as an operator at one of BHP’s Queensland mines. In December 2019, he raised a series of concerns including a failure to stop work when there was lightning nearby, an oil leak on a truck he was directed to operate and dangerous operation of vehicles.
The member was stood down and asked to show cause as to why his employment should continue. He was then advised his access to the mine had been revoked by BHP due to a technicality over placing an ‘out of service’ tag in the incorrect place on a truck; and his assignment was at an end.
Justice Collier found that our member faced adverse action by BHP due to exercising his workplace rights to raise safety concerns. BHP now faces fines and compensation payments, to be determined by the Federal Court.
In the case brought by our Union, Justice Collier found it was likely the worker was targeted by BHP management and he rejected BHP’s claims his presence on site was a safety risk.
“Rather, the evidence indicates that he insisted on exercising workplace rights at the mine, and that in so doing he essentially aggravated management.”
She said that the breach of tagging protocol would normally be at the lower end of any disciplinary outcome, resulting in a warning and not job loss.
Queensland District President Stephen Smyth said the matter confirmed the issue raised by many workers and flagged in the recent report tabled by the Queensland Parliament’s Inquiry into Coal Mining Industry Safety. That is, that workers face retribution if they raise safety concerns.
“Our member exercised his legal right and obligation to raise safety concerns, and BHP stood him down immediately.
“The industry keeps saying there’s no evidence that retribution occurs. Well, here it is.
“The Federal Court ruling in our favour was a great win for the operator, but it also sends a strong message to companies such as BHP that they can’t sack people for raising legitimate concerns.
“This ruling has shown loud and clear that this is unlawful behaviour, and we will fight them on this because it is simply unacceptable.”
This case follows another Federal Court win in the long-running matter of our member Kim Star, a WorkPac contractor who was sacked by BHP after raising safety concerns in 2017.
After the Fair Work Commission ruled she was unfairly dismissed by WorkPac, the Federal Court was found to have taken adverse action against her by fighting her return to the workplace. BHP was ordered to pay compensation late last year.