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Court rules against CFMEU in drug testing battle

The Supreme Court of Queensland has dismissed the CFMEU’s application to declare the implementation of a new drug testing regime at BHP BMA’s Goonyella Riverside mine as not lawfully established.

Earlier this week, BMA said the number of workers testing positive to illegal drugs and alcohol had increased 500 per cent since the new testing program was introduced. But the CFMEU claimed only two of the 66 cases of recently detected methamphetamine were attributed to permanent employees directly employed by BHP.

While the union supported responsible measures to protect the safety and well being of workers, the Supreme Court challenge related to the manner in which BMA sought to implement the new procedure and the associated voting requirements prescribed by the Coal Mining Safety and Health Regulation 2001.

The Regulation requires the company to seek the agreement of workers to implement the proposed changes. While less than half the workers at the mine agreed to the change in procedure, the change was approved. The union argued that those who did not vote on the issue should be deemed to have disagreed with the change.

BMA welcomed the court’s decision in support of the continued use of improved site drug testing arrangements at Goonyella Riverside Mine.

Asset President Rag Udd told APN the company was surprised by the union’s decision to challenge the new arrangements.

“Since Goonyella Riverside adopted new urine screening procedures a number of cases of drug and alcohol use have been detected, including methamphetamine, commonly referred to as ice,” Mr Udd said.

“Our analysis shows that compared to the previous year, the detection rate for substance use has increased approximately five fold since the improved regime was introduced. We understand that drug use is an issue within the broader community and BMA has counselling services available to our employees if they are in need of assistance.

“But it is unacceptable for someone affected by drugs to perform work on site, placing themselves and their workmates at risk of a serious safety incident.”

CFMEU Mining and Energy division Queensland District President Steve Smyth said the union supports appropriate and responsible measures to ensure the safety and well being of coal mine workers and any suggestion to the contrary is irresponsible and unfounded, but effective consultation was also critical.

“The proceedings were significant in clarifying the correct interpretation of the legislation, including the importance of worker participation and involvement where new procedures are sought to be implemented,” Mr Smyth said.

“It is important that workers have a say and are involved in these decisions because at the end of the day it is their health and safety we are trying to protect.

“The procedures needed to be looked at critically to ensure they are of substantive benefit to the safety and welfare of workers.  For example, assertions that increased detection rates can be attributed to a change in the method or type of testing may not take into account that an increase in the number of tests being done is responsible for the increased detection.

“There are serious drug and alcohol issues that arise in the industry, including those exacerbated by the increased demands on workers through roster and work arrangements.”

Mr Smyth said companies must engage meaningfully with their workforce to understand why it is happening and the best way to deal with it.

“There is significant anecdotal evidence that an overwhelming proportion of any increased detection at Goonyella Riverside relates to workers employed in insecure work, specifically those employed by contractor and labour hire firms,” he said.

“If the company is serious about dealing with drug and alcohol abuse and related mental health issues, they need to stop the proliferation of insecure work,” Mr Smyth said.

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