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Employer removed Qld coal workers for raising safety concerns says authority

Goonyella Riverside Mine
Goonyella Riverside Mine

Two outsourced employees were unlawfully removed from their posts after reporting unsafe conditions in Central Queensland’s Isaac region.

Kim Star and Daryl Meikle should never have been excluded from BHP Mitsubishi Alliance’s (BMA’s) Goonyella Riverside mine (225km southwest of Mackay) and formerly owned Daunia Mine (175km southwest of Mackay) respectively. This is the conclusion the Federal Court of Australia reached after examining two different complaints against the same proponent.

Star successfully argued that BMA ended her WorkPac labour hire work arrangement because she complained about inadequate lighting while using a truck to transport material on 9 November 2017. As a result she felt “humiliated”, “hopeless”, “devastated” and reluctant to exercise statutory safety rights.

“The process of looking for subsequent employment was demoralising and depressing in circumstances where she felt she had not done anything wrong, and there was not a good reason for exclusion from the mine,” the final judgment said.

“As a result of no longer working at the mine she now spends significantly less time with her partner who [still] works at the mine … [and] she missed working with colleagues that she had developed strong working relationships with whilst working there over four years.”

WorkPac colleague Meikle claimed he was investigated on 10 December 2019 then permanently removed from duty on 16 January 2020. BMA accused him of being an “unacceptable safety risk” and using the “wrong” standard operating procedure. These claims were eventually found to be unsubstantiated and incorrect respectively.

He was unemployed for five months, during which he allegedly lost $139,781.90 of wages, $6103.12 of bonuses, and $13,859.07 of employer paid superannuation contributions.

“He felt worthless … like a failure and like he had let his family down. [He] was unable to afford basic living expenses, [and] was unable to afford to go home to New Zealand to see his partner, children or father who had advanced Parkinson’s disease,” the final judgment said.

Justice Berna Joan Collier ordered BMA to pay Star $15,000 in general damages compensation within 30 days, and a separate $5000 plus the equivalent of six months’ wages to Meikle.

The Mining and Energy Union (MEU) acknowledged the amounts were “small change” for a large corporation like BMA. However, the judgments send a clear message that turning whistleblowers into “scapegoats” is unacceptable.

“These members have waited many years for justice and for BHP to be held to account. While the monetary amounts are small change for BHP, the legal black mark against them is an important victory for workers,” MEU Queensland district president Mitch Hughes said in a public statement.

“We often say that insecure work is bad for safety and here we have it in black and white … [and] these findings and fines against BHP will be a deterrent to treating labour hire workers as disposable.”

Click here to read the full final judgments.

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