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Fair Work approves undercutting permanent staff through labour hire

BHP workers
BHP workers

The nation’s industrial relations tribunal has given its blessing for a global resources company to set up an in-house labour hire subsidiary to pay mine workers much less than their permanently employed colleagues.

The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has confirmed the Fair Work Commission recently approved two agreements to cover BHP’s new Operation Services labour hire arm.

The decision means coal mine workers will be paid between $30,000 and $50,000 a year less, receive no wage increases for four years, have to work on Christmas Day, receive no compensation for work accidents, and be at risk of being relocated at any time to any of the company’s coal and iron ore operations across the nation.

Avoiding negotiations

CFMEU claims BHP set up two labour hire arms for $1 each to avoid the need to negotiate site agreements with the trade union.

“It’s disgraceful that mining giants like BHP are simply able to sidestep existing union-negotiated agreements and introduce new non-union agreements to cut pay and conditions,” CFMEU Mining and Energy general president Tony Maher said in a public statement. “They say Operations Services employees ‘are’ BHP [workers] and give them a BHP shirt but people know when they are being treated like second-class citizens.”

The trade union tried to challenge both the Operations Services Maintenance Agreement 2018 and Operations Services Production Agreement 2018 but was unsuccessful. It is now considering options for appeal as there is already considerable worker backlash against Operation Services.

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Worker dissent

“We know that Operations Services workers are voting with their feet and turnover is high,” Maher said. “This arrogant approach will come back to bite BHP.”

He suggested “same job same pay” laws need to be introduced to stop proponents from using labour hire arrangements to “rip off workers”.

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