Unions pushing government on Qld safety crisis

THE Electrical Trades Union wants the Queensland government and Queensland Resources Council to support a major overhaul of employment practices in the state’s coal mining industry including the prosecution of company directors to prevent more mine accidents such as the May 6 gas explosion at Grosvenor mine.
Unions pushing government on Qld safety crisis Unions pushing government on Qld safety crisis Unions pushing government on Qld safety crisis Unions pushing government on Qld safety crisis Unions pushing government on Qld safety crisis

CFMEU district president Stephen Smyth.

The Grosvenor blast left five mineworkers in hospital. It is the latest in a string of mining incidents over the past 18 months that have resulted in the deaths of eight workers in Queensland.

ETU state secretary Peter Ong said a decision by mines minister Dr Anthony Lynham to hold a board of inquiry over the incident was a good first step but the government should prosecute directors of mining companies and labour hire firms if they were found to be negligent.

He also joined the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union in calling on the government to hasten the reform of industrial manslaughter legislation in the mining industry.

"The legislation is before parliament and should be passed as soon as possible," Ong said.

"Company directors need to know if their negligence causes death or injury, they could go to jail."

According to Ong the increasing use of casual and labour hire personnel since 2012 is a significant contributing factor to deteriorating occupational health and safety outcomes in the coal mining industry.

"With all due respect you can have all the inquiries you like, but until workers can report OHS issues without fear of losing their job, the problem will only get worse," he said.

"But much more concerning is the evidence coming to us and other mining unions that many workers trapped in insecure work are reluctant to report incidents for fear of retribution and job losses. That fact also featured heavily in surveys conducted during the mining reset last year."

CFMEU Mining and Energy Queensland President Stephen Smyth has written to Lynham calling for the urgent progression and passing of the Mineral and Energy Resources and other Legislation Amendment Bill 2020.

That legislation creates a criminal offence where negligence contributes to the death of a mineworker; and brings mining into line with other industries where individual executives and managers face jail time.

It also makes it a requirement that any statutory safety positions such as underground deputy must be directly employed by the mine operator rather than employed as contractors, to focus on safety rather than production.

Smyth said the laws were overdue and should be urgently passed in the wake of the shocking Grosvenor accident to further protect the state's mineworkers.

"The Queensland government has made a commitment to introducing these new laws and we can't afford to wait any longer," Smyth said.

"Queensland mineworkers deserve to have the strongest possible safety laws and regulations."

Ong said the correlation between the increase in insecure work types and workplace risk was there for all to see.

"We call on the QRC and the state government to join with us to pressure multinational mining companies to directly employ workers on a permanent basis," he said.

"The business models of multinational coal companies, which are based on creating a compliant workforce through the continued expansion of labour hire and other forms of insecure work, which now account for close to 65% of the Queensland coal mining workforce, must be stopped.

"We call on the QRC to support our demands for a major overhaul of employment arrangements in the industry."

A QRC spokesman said it would cooperate with the independent Board of Inquiry into the Grosvenor mine incident announced by the Queensland government.

QRC CEO Ian Macfarlane said the Board of Inquiry into the incident would be conducted under the Coal Mining Health and Safety Act 1999.

"There is no higher priority than safety for QRC and our member companies," Macfarlane said.

"No-one should pre-empt the findings of the Inquiry or the Mines Inspectorate investigation already underway.  Everyone should continue to pray for the five injured workers, their families and workmates and thank those first responders and hospital workers caring for the injured miners."