The battle over casual labour in the Hunter coal industry took another turn this week after the Federal Court sided with the mine workers’ union over major labour hire company One Key.
One Key’s parent company Fircroft told its workers on Wednesday that “while we are disappointed in the court’s decision, we respect it and are working through the options available to us”.
The national president of the mining division of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union, Tony Maher, said the decision by the court’s full bench was “another nail in the coffin for the ‘permanent casual’ rort in coal mining” and a good deal for members.
The case has also thrown a spotlight on the role of ACT law firm Adero, which launched a class action against aspects of coal industry labour hire practices earlier this year in response to agitation from a group of injured labour hire workers, most of whom who had either not joined the union or left it because they felt ignored.
In a statement after Tuesday’s hearing, Mr Maher said: “Our deal with Fircroft for compensation will deliver payouts for union members only. We make no apologies for this. After all, union members funded the legal action. There are some class action legal firms riding on our coat tails: a reminder that non‐unionists will suffer a substantial cut from any payouts won by class action lawyers.”
Adero partner Rory Markham criticised the union in return, saying it had “back-flipped” on its original opposition to One Key by cutting a deal for its members, who he said made up only 10 per cent of the 1100 affected workers.
“There has been no transparency or consultation in any of these deals,” Mr Markham said. “Such arrangements will be heavily scrutinised by the courts in the coming months.”
Adero launched its class action earlier this year targeting the Mount Arthur mine operator BHP, and its main labour hire firm Chandler Macleod. Mr Markham said it was also looking to act for One Key workers who were not part of the union’s “confidential settlement” with the company.
The injured Mount Arthur mine workers believe it was their lobbying as much as anything the union did that led to the NSW government amending legislation earlier this year to better define who was an employer in the coal industry to stop Chandler Macleod using mainstream workers’ compensation insurance instead of the industry’s supposedly compulsory insurer, Coal Mines Insurance.
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