September 22, 2020
The CFMEU has successfully argued that two new roles of Field Officer and Mine Controller created by BHP to manage autonomous coal trucks will be covered by the site Enterprise Agreement.
The Union’s win in the Fair Work Commission means more opportunities for CFMEU members who would otherwise face being displaced as BHP introduces automated technology in coal mines.
Late last year, BHP announced that Goonyella Riverside would become the first of its coal mines to introduce autonomous haul trucks with a fleet of 86 to be rolled out – straight to implementation with no trial. Daunia followed in July with the announcement of 34 driverless trucks.
The CFMEU challenged BHP’s automation plan at Goonyella Riverside on a number of grounds including their classification of the new ‘Field Officer’ and ‘Mine Controller’ roles as staff rather than EA.
While the Fair Work Commission didn’t rule in the Union’s favour on matters including inadequate consultation, our arguments that the two new roles should be covered the site EA were successful.
Goonyella Riverside Lodge President Simon West, who gave evidence at the hearing, said mineworkers were enthusiastic about the roll out of automated technology as long as they had opportunities to access the new jobs and skills created.
Simon said BHP’s claims that the new roles should be staff because of their use of technology was out of step with the changing nature of coal mineworkers’ jobs, many of which already involve using remote control and computerised systems.
“There is nothing about the new roles that is more technical or skilled than much of the work carried out every day by shotfirers, Open Cut Examiners and other coal mineworkers covered by our EA.
“It’s a great outcome that the current workforce will now have more opportunity to move into these roles on EA terms and conditions.”
Deputy President Asbury’s decision about classification of the roles was based on them being directly involved in the production of coal and meeting the Award definition of a mineworker. She found that the use of new technology did not change the fundamental nature of the roles.
Queensland District Vice President Steve Pierce said the FWC decision was a massive win that would flow beyond Goonyella Riverside as more automated technology is rolled out at BHP’s coal mines.
“It stops the company taking those roles away from existing EA employees and giving them to staff,” he said.
“It means that two-thirds of the roles created as part of automation will be performed by employees covered by the Enterprise Agreement and it opens up a new career path for people who would otherwise be displaced by automation.”
What are the new roles?
The Field Officer’s role is coordination of all operational variables impacting use of Autonomous Haul Trucks (AHTs) in mining operations in the autonomous zone. The Field Officer surveys the autonomous zone to ensure that it matches the virtual mine model which governs the operation of the AHTs. The Field Officer is responsible for the prompt co-ordination of the removal of obstacles and recovery of autonomous trucks and escorting non-site aware vehicles. The Field Officer is also the first responder to autonomous stoppage events to conduct a root cause analysis of vehicles and systems and to coordinate relevant maintenance staff for rectification. The majority of the Field Officer’s working day is spent in a vehicle on the mine site identifying ways to make AHTs operate to their optimum efficiency.
Deputy President Asbury said: “It is difficult to comprehend that any coal mine worker would not have the competency to operate a light vehicle and a range of other mine equipment including automated or computerised equipment. The reporting of impediments and arranging for their rectification is part and parcel of the work of an operator of a haul truck. It would be expected that a haul truck operator would report matters such as erosion or damage to a corner on a haul road or to a bund or effects of inclement weather so that adjustments could be made to the operation of trucks and repairs or maintenance can be performed. The fact that this is done by a Field Officer using technology does not alter the fact that the Field Officer is undertaking work at a place where black coal is mined, that is integral to the production of coal and which has always been performed.”
The Controller’s responsibility is effective operation of the technology and systems that monitor and control AHTs and safely executing the daily mine plan. The Controller does not establish the mine plan. Controllers work in a control room and are part of the ‘Mine Control Team’. The Controller role has similarities to the role of Despatch Operator which was a common role on BHP mine sites before the role was located offsite in Brisbane. There are also similarities between a Controller and the Coal Room Operator in Coal Handling and Preparation Plants (CHPP) in that these employees control the operations of the CHPP remotely via a bank of computer screens.
Deputy President Asbury said: “It is clear that the role of Controller has a direct connection to the production of coal regardless of being located in a control room. The fact that there is technology interposed between the controller and the AHTs does not change the fact that the controller is an integral part of their operation. At the risk of stating the obvious, if AHTs could be operated entirely by an automated system, there would be no requirement to employ Controllers. The principal purpose for which Controllers are employed is to operate an automated haulage system in connection with the production of coal. The interposing of that system between the Controllers and the AHTs does not alter that fact.”