Blunt warning for BHP as COVID-19 bites

THE Miners’ Union has warned BHP to not use COVID-19 as cover to stop anyone coming back to work when the crisis is over or to wind back any workers’ rights and conditions into the future, as the Big Australian confirms a “small” number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 within its 72,000-strong global workforce.
Blunt warning for BHP as COVID-19 bites Blunt warning for BHP as COVID-19 bites Blunt warning for BHP as COVID-19 bites Blunt warning for BHP as COVID-19 bites Blunt warning for BHP as COVID-19 bites

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union Queensland district president Stephen Smyth

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According to BHP CEO Mike Henry, the individuals who tested positive followed the required protocols of self-isolating and reporting to avoid putting their colleagues at risk and there has been no broader transmission from these cases to other workers or any impact on sites or operations.

Henry said BHP has procedures in place in the event someone became unwell with COVID-19 symptoms which ensured anyone with symptoms was safely isolated and given aid before being evacuated if required, for self-isolation or treatment based on health authority advice.

He said procedures also included tracing and communication protocols with others to reduce the risk of further transmission.

This has raised the ire of unions, with Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union Queensland district president Stephen Smyth voicing concern about the nature and extent of the medical information being sought by BHP about workers in vulnerable groups and how it would be used.

Smyth said no worker should face future discrimination because of health information they provided due to COVID-19.

"Commitments must be made by BHP and all mine operators that only relevant medical information will be sought, that it will be destroyed once this issue is resolved and that all workers can be treated and assessed by their own doctors," he said.

"COVID-19 must not be used as cover to stop anyone coming back to work when this is over, or to wind back any workers' rights and conditions into the future."

Smyth said mineworkers in vulnerable groups should be able to self-quarantine without losing their livelihoods by accessing paid leave.

"Unfortunately, at least half of the workforce on BHP sites will not be able to access that paid discretionary leave for vulnerable workers because BHP has replaced so many permanent jobs with casual labour hire," he claimed.

Smyth said the union was aware of vulnerable labour hire workers being directed to not return to work on BHP sites and being stood down, which was "a terrible outcome for these workers".

He demanded BHP fix it immediately using the $6 million fund set aside to support labour hire workers through this period.

A BHP spokesman told Australia's Mining Monthly there were certain groups within the workforce that were at a higher risk of a serious infection if they contracted the virus and in line with World Health Organisation guidelines the company was taking additional measures to support their ongoing wellbeing, in close consultation with doctors and public health experts.

"In addition to bearing the costs to ensure that our own high risk workers that have been asked not to attend site are financially supported, we have asked our labour hire partners and contractors to work with us to safely and compassionately implement these measures at all BHP mines," the spokesman said.

"We are actively encouraging them to take the steps we are taking to support high risk employees during the COVID19 pandemic."

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