'Treated like second-class': Mine workers sue for $12m
HUNDREDS of coal miners are locked in a multi-million dollar wages dispute against labour hire firm WorkPac.
Filed by national law firm Slater & Gordon on behalf of the CFMEU the case aims to win back $12m in alleged unpaid entitlements for more than 600 coal miners, who claim they have been misclassified as "casual" workers by WorkPac since 2013.
"Multinational mining companies should employ and pay people properly," Blackwater mine pump operator Chad Stokes said.
The 36 year old, who has been employed as a 'permanent casual' for the past five years, is taking part in the CFMEU lawsuit as he hopes it will force mining companies to change the way they hire employees.
"I have been unable to buy a house because the bank doesn't want to lend money when you're a casual, even if you have a decent deposit," he said, adding it was mentally taxing to be in his position for so long.
"Casual labour hire jobs are the only jobs available in the industry at the moment, even though the work we do is the same as permanents.
"Because we are employed on a permanent roster, we are not getting paid as 'true casuals' and yet we have no paid annual leave or sick days.
"What is most stressful is the lack of job security. I could get a phone-call any day telling me I'm no longer needed and I don't have a job."
He said other miners in the same position had resorted to leaving the mines to find permanent employment elsewhere.
"I know a lot of people who have gone back to town for work because even though the pay might be a little less, at least they get the job security and leave entitlements," he said.
"It's sad really because I enjoy my job but it would be nice to have that job security. It takes a toll on your mental health when you don't have that stability."
Mr Stokes is hopeful the class action will recover entitlements, but most importantly he hopes it will end the casual labour hire model for future generations.
"Workers should be able to have holidays with their families and take paid sick days when they need them," he said.
CFMEU national president Tony Maher said out of the 600 miners taking part in the class action, about 440 were from Queensland. Most of those workers would have been employed at Central Queensland coal mines including Hail Creek Mine, Saraji, Goonyella Riverside and Blackwater.
The lawsuit follows last year's Federal Court ruling in the matter of WorkPac v Skene, which found that casual coal miners in regular on-going employment with advance fixed rosters were not legally casual workers and were entitled to paid leave.
Mr Maher said the WorkPac v Skene judgment had exposed the rort of hiring workers as 'permanent casuals', which is widespread in mining.
"At many Australian coal mines, half or more of the workers are employed as casuals in jobs where the nature of the work is not casual at all," he said.
"This rort robs workers of their legal entitlements and siphons that money back into the pockets of rich mining company shareholders and executives."
The CFMEU's class action lead applicant is Hunter Valley coal miner Ben Renyard who worked at Mount Thorley Warkworth mine through WorkPac for nearly three years.
He said he hoped the class action would put pressure on employers to stop exploiting casual workers.
"I worked on a crew alongside permanent workers on the same annual roster with the same supervisor, but I got less pay and no entitlements like annual leave or sick leave," Mr Renyard said.
"As a casual you are treated like a second-class citizen."
WorkPac have hit back at the allegations they have underpaid staff, saying their casual employees are in fact paid a higher hourly rate to pay out their leave and other entitlements.
"WorkPac's coal-sector employees are employed under enterprise agreements negotiated and approved by the CFMEU and ratified by the Fair Work Commission," a spokesman said.
"Casual employees under these approved agreements are paid a higher hourly rate. Many employees prefer casual employment as it provides them with greater work and lifestyle flexibility."
Since June, employees covered by the 2019 WorkPac Coal Enterprise Agreement have been entitled to convert from a casual to permanent role if that better suits their lifestyle and other needs, said the spokesman.
"The CFMEU's class action seeks to have workers paid twice," he said.
"Casual employees have been paid a higher hourly rate to pay out their leave and other entitlements. The union's class action would see employees paid for those same entitlements again."
Mr Maher invited all CFMEU Mining and Energy members who have been employed by WorkPac since 2013 to join the class action at no cost. Any affected WorkPac employee who is not a union member should contact the union to see how they can get involved.
The full amount of any recovered entitlements will go back to affected members.