A multinational resources company has been accused of deliberately deteriorating work conditions to discourage labour hire workers from staying on at a coal operation in New South Wales’ Upper Hunter region.
BHP allegedly plans to cancel company paid flights and motel accommodation, retrench 110 Operations Services (OS) staff, and change rosters from seven days on, seven days off to five days on, four days off at the Mount Arthur Coal Mine in Muswellbrook, 127km northwest of Newcastle.
The changes mean the remaining workforce of about 50 will find it less attractive to keep working for OS. New vacancies are expected to be filled locally instead of remote fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers according to the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).
“They have just changed the rules with no warning,” CFMEU northern district vice president Jeff Drayton said in the union’s Common Cause publication.
“There are OS workers travelling to Mt Arthur from Sydney, Queensland, even South Australia … it will be impossible for them if they now have to travel twice a week, not once a week, and fund their own flights and accommodation.”
No redundancy pay
Drayton speculates the employer realised introducing a FIFO work model was a mistake and decided to correct it by making work conditions less attractive to minimise the number of redundancy payouts.
“BHP will try and get out of paying any redundancies because their contracts say they can just get relocated anywhere on the East Coast. That means they have to uproot their family or self-fund their commute from NSW to Queensland if they want to keep a job,” he said.
He believes the plight of OS workers could have easily been avoided by the employer not hiring FIFO workers in the first place.
“[BHP managers] should have listened to the community before the introduced the FIFO model, it would have stopped 160 people getting stuffed around,” he said.
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Industrial relations talks are continuing between CFMEU and the employer, and labour hire employees are encouraged to do a short anonymous survey.