September 16, 2020
Senator Matt Canavan wrote to the Union saying he was confused about our concerns about casualisation in mining. Queensland District President Stephen Smyth set him straight with this response:
Dear Senator Canavan,
As a long-term political representative of Central Queensland coal communities I am surprised that you are confused about rights for casual miners, but please let me clarify the issues for you.
The ‘permanent casual’ work model in coal mining has grown out of control over the last five to ten years. At many central Queensland coal mines more than half the workforce is now casual labour hire, paid substantially lower rates than permanents on site Enterprise Agreements and with no job security.
This ‘permanent casual’ model, pushed by mining companies exploiting weaknesses in our workplace laws, has been disastrous for individuals and for mining regions. Research by the McKell Institute earlier this year showed that around half a billion dollars a year in economic activity is lost to Queensland coal regions due to lower wages and lack of entitlements paid to casual labour hire miners.
The findings in the WorkPac v Skene and WorkPac v Rossato Federal Court matters blow the whistle on this practice. With these judgments, the Federal Court has now clarified the law in this area, twice ruling that the widespread employment model of long-term coal miners on full-time hours with advance rosters is unlawful.
Because the WorkPac decisions weren’t in their favour, employers are now pressuring the Government to overturn the effect of the decisions and Attorney-General Christian Porter is developing the Government’s response.
Employer groups want the Government to introduce a self-serving definition of casual in the Fair Work Act, which would mean anyone is a casual if their employer calls them one. If the Government complies, this will effectively be legalising the ‘permanent casual’ rort and letting down coal miners.
At the same time, your Government has intervened in the High Court appeal against the WorkPac v Rossato judgment on the side of employers in order to prevent casual miners unlawfully exploited as casuals from seeking lawful compensation.
Conversion provisions are not the answer
The right to request conversion from casual to permanent after 12 months as proposed by you is not an adequate solution to this problem.
The Federal Court has ruled that the jobs are not casual. This is common sense and now it is the law. Full-time miners on regular rosters should not be employed as casuals at all.
Mining employers have driven down wages in the industry by offering casual rates all-inclusive of benefits. Even with so-called loadings, these casuals are usually paid about one-third less than directly-employed permanents. Workers should not have to accept jobs with no job security or annual or sick leave in order to receive pay packets closer to established industry rates.
To be very clear, we do not support conversion provisions as a solution to issues raised by the WorkPac Federal Court judgments.
What we need to solve the ‘permanent casual’ rort
- A definition of ‘casual’ in the Fair Work Act in line with the WorkPac Federal Court judgments and common sense: that is, irregular, intermittent and without firm advance commitment.
- Same job same pay laws. Mining multinationals should not be able to bypass enterprise agreements negotiated in good faith with the workforce in order to pay people doing the same job substantially different amounts, funnelling money out of family pay packets and back into company profits.
- Fair compensation for coal miners unlawfully employed as casuals. Where workers have effectively been victims of wage theft, the Government should not be passing laws or intervening in legal actions to bail out those multinational mining and labour hire companies that have acted unlawfully. The WorkPac Federal Court decisions are about mining, not small business.
- Make no mistake, a mighty wrong has been inflicted on mining communities through this unfair and unlawful employment model. They deserve for this wrong to be made right.
You and your LNP colleagues have a real opportunity to make a difference to your constituents in coal regions by advocating for their interests in Government. We intend to hold you to account for doing that.
Stephen Smyth CFMEU Mining and Energy Queensland District President