The major mining union, the NSW Minerals Council and Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon have responded to claims about the treatment of workers at the Mount Arthur coalmine made in parliament on Tuesday night by One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts.
While the minerals council distanced itself from the senator's criticisms, saying it had no "day-to-day" role in operating or managing the organisations to which it had appointed directors, the union and Mr Fitzgibbon responded by accusing Mr Roberts and One Nation of bluster and grandstanding.
Injured former Mount Arthur mine worker Simon Turner, whose research convinced One Nation to take up the issue, said Senator Roberts laid out the issues in his speech, but the industry ignored them and continued to try to shoot the messenger instead.
Senator Roberts's 10-minute speech covered the issues raised in Newcastle Herald articles recently and since 2015. The senator had foreshadowed One Nation's intention to raise the matters in parliament when he used a Senate estimates committee hearing last month to quiz senior managers of the Coal Long Service Leave Funding Corporation (Coal LSL) and the Fair Work Commission on their knowledge of complaints raised by injured mine worker Simon Turner and others.
The full Hansard text of Senator Robert's speech appears below.
After naming Mount Arthur mine owner BHP, its labour hire contractor Chandler Macleod, the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union, the minerals council, Coal Services, Coal LSL, Mine Super, Mr Fitzgibbon, and the Labor and Liberal parties more generally, Senator Roberts said he called "publicly for action" on the issue and wanted BHP, Chandler Macleod and the union, in particular, to respond.
Peter Jordan, president of the northern district of the mine workers division of the CFMMEU, defended the union's record and accused Senator Roberts of "self-promotion".
"One Nation has done nothing to improve conditions for Hunter Valley mine workers," Mr Jordan said.
"One Nation continue to oppose changing the law to ensure 'same job same pay' for labour hire mine workers and casual conversion rights that would end the exploitative labour hire business model in the coal mining industry.
"While One Nation focuses on self-promotion, the CFMEU will continue pursuing outcomes for members. "The Union pursues every claim that is raised with us and we have a strong track record having members reinstated to their jobs, securing lost entitlements and winning compensation."
In his speech, Senator Roberts described the industry's regulatory bodies - effectively controlled 50/50 by the union and the minerals council - as a "complex web" of "government legislated monopolies" that "ignored the rights" of the "discarded" Mount Arthur workers so that "whichever way they turned, these people had no chance".
For its part, the minerals council says being a "shareholder" means it appoints directors as set out in the relevant legislation. It says these directors owe their corporate responsibilities to their appointed organisations, not the minerals council.
"We continue to examine and monitor these issues from an industry perspective, noting the NSW Minerals Council has no role in the day-to-day operation or management of any of these organisations," minerals council chief executive Stephen Galilee said.
Joel Fitzgibbon, who Senator Roberts said had "shown the door, six times" to the complaining Mount Arthur mine workers, challenged One Nation to stop supporting the Coalition as a tactic to leverage support for the Mount Arthur cause.
"Malcolm Roberts continues bluster and grandstand in the Senate but if he was serious about helping local coal miners he'd be attacking Scott Morrison and his Government's failure to act against growing casualisation and employee exploitation," Mr Fitzgibbon said.
"Labor went to the May election with a commitment to legislate to address these issues but with a lot of help from One Nation, Scott Morrison won that election.
"Six months after the election, Scott Morrison still has not acted on casualisation as he promised he would do. Malcolm Roberts continues to prop-up Scott Morrison Government.
"Here's an idea for him, he should withdraw his support for all government Bills until Scott Morrison acts on growing casualisation and employee exploitation in the coal mining industry.
As a local member I do all I can to help people under the current law but it's the law that needs changing."
The Herald also sought responses from BHP and Chandler Macleod, but none had arrived by 9pm Wednesday.
Full speech of Senator Roberts
As a servant of the people of Queensland and Australia, I speak of my concerns tonight for the security of all Australians and to acknowledge the bravery of some very special hardworking Australians. I recently had the good fortune to meet some outstanding people and would like to single them out tonight with a special tribute for their courage-yes, courage. These people were abandoned: deserted by their employers, deserted by the big union and deserted by government. I am referring to the brave black-coal miners in the Hunter Valley from the Mount Arthur mine who were denied their entitlements by both their employer, Chandler Macleod, and the mine operator, BHP. Yes, BHP: the 'Big Australian', which disregards and discards everyday Australians and leaves them underpaid, broken and abandoned.
BHP and Chandler Macleod have been exploiting these miners as casuals. Even though these casuals worked side by side with the permanent workforce, for years they were underpaid by 40 per cent while on the same roster and projected, two years into the future, to be permanent workers. They had the same skills and the same jobs as permanent workers. They had the same responsibilities but received 40 per cent less pay. These casual miners have been risking injury or death without access to decent protection, like proper industry workers compensation, which everyday Australians rely on their employer and our government for. But where was the government when these people needed help? The government organisations in New South Wales entrusted with protecting these people let them down too. Every Australian should be worried because we could be next. As a mining executive myself, I've worked with miners and coal union delegates and I'm proud to have done so to establish a pioneering award that set new standards for our industry and led to performance and safety benchmarks for our entire Australian coalmining industry. These initiatives focused on ensuring that miners could return home intact to be with their families after every shift, and I understand that good safety systems and practices also improve productive capacity and reduce costs. They make sense.
Today, I'm appreciating real unsung heroes-people who did not give in and who were brave enough to not take no for an answer. I speak of people like Mr Simon Turner who, despite his massive injuries, did not give up. He's a real champion. Simon and many other everyday Australians like him were employed by Chandler Macleod under substandard pay and conditions, including no leave, no penalty rates, no accident cover, no shift allowance, no coal workers compensation, no long service leave and possibly cuts in superannuation, while their mates-the full-time BHP production workers they worked beside-did rightly get these benefits. When these casual workers took their concerns to BHP, the 'Big Australian' not only showed these workers the door but covered the whole thing up, including their injuries and accidents. BHP violated the law in not reporting injuries and accidents. When these people took their concerns to their employer, labour hire firm Chandler Macleod, it was the same story. Chandler Macleod discards and disregards their people: everyday Australians. Chandler Macleod's website says that they care about safety and that overlooking workplace safety can result in high costs, both social and financial, and could affect the company's reputation, but who can trust Chandler Macleod's empty words after this misbehaviour and these abuses and cover-ups?
When Chandler Macleod didn't help these honest workers, the workers took their concerns to the Fair Work Commission and to the coalmining long service leave authority. Again, these people were brushed aside and ignored. Fair Work and the coalmining long service leave authority were just like a mirror. Fair Work said they would look into it but nothing came back to protect these workers. Fair Work signed off on their enterprise agreement without checking whether they could even employ casual miners under the award. They cannot. And it gets worse. There are many hundreds of similar workplace agreements that the CFMMEU and Chandler Macleod set up to exploit casual workers. Many more workers could have similar claims, so watch this space. These employers and the union must have known that what they were doing was wrong and that it was also morally wrong. Their employer and the union ignored the industry award. But, to rub salt into the wounds of these miners, Fair Work ignored their calls for help too.
There is a complex web of companies in this matter. Coal Mines Insurance and Coal Mine Services, who operate in the Hunter Valley, are both owned fifty-fifty by the CFMMEU and the New South Wales Minerals Council, the employer entity. AUSCOAL Superannuation are also owned by some of these parties. So, whichever way they turned, these people had no chance. They were dealing with government legislated monopolies. The CFMMEU ignored the rights of these honest workers from beginning to end. They signed off on a substandard employment agreement. The CFMMEU broke the trust of these workers and discarded them.
When these workers took their concerns to the local federal Labor MP, Joel Fitzgibbon, they were shown the door again-six times-as they were by the state MP and Liberal state ministers. How hard it must have been for these champions to keep going. But then, thanks to meeting our One Nation representative, Stuart Bonds, an experienced and trusted figure in the Hunter Valley community, Simon and injured people like him got a voice at last. The trust that Simon Turner put in Stuart Bonds has been repaid, and now we are seeing the government and the union respond-maybe-at last. It has been a long journey, and it could not come soon enough for these brave people. Now we need action and not words from BHP, Chandler Macleod and the CFMMEU, and I call on them to respond. Stuart Bonds, who is a CFMMEU member himself, brought this matter to me, and then I drew it to the attention of this House, the federal Attorney-General's Department and New South Wales senator Marise Payne.
One Nation is always concerned for everyday people: workers, farmers, small-business owners-the people that the Liberal, Labor and National parties ignore and who the big employers, like BHP and Chandler Macleod, are exploiting and dumping. For the abused Hunter Valley black-coal miners, we now want what every Australian expects and is entitled to-that is, we want to ensure that all miners who have been scammed and denied their legal and moral entitlements receive a fair go. I know that decent Australians will want to see these rogue organisations held accountable for their abuses before it happens to them. We applaud these Hunter Valley casual black-coal miners who were left out in the cold by their big multinational employer and big union. Alone and without support, these people had to prepare their case, and they were able to prove correctly to me that the black-coal award does not have provisions for casual employment in production and engineering roles. I have devoted two weeks to understanding the many and varied breaches of the law and the breaches of industry standards perpetrated by these rogue organisations no longer worthy of our trust. I'm informed that some parties appear to have committed outright fraud against these miners. That is why I recently made serious claims in Senate estimates hearings and publicly, in the media.
Stuart Bonds and I will do whatever is necessary to achieve our aims in seeking justice for the miners robbed of their livelihood. Some miners have been crippled physically, emotionally and mentally. Until not long ago, nobody cared. I have publicly called for action against the employer, BHP, and Chandler Macleod; the mine operators, BHP; the union; and possibly against members of parliament, state government inspectors and agencies and the New South Wales Minerals Council.
I speak of the misbehaviour of the parties who have colluded to let these honest workers down. I refer in this collusion to BHP, Chandler Macleod and the CFMMEU, who ensured that these people had nowhere to go and nobody to listen to their complaints. These bodies, these organisations, knew that these people were casuals-in fact, they had been employed for years by the company, yet nobody cared. Shame on these businesses, these organisations, for what they did to these workers. Shame on the CFMMEU for collecting the cash and not supporting them.
The facts speak for themselves. These people went to BHP, who covered up their injuries and incidents. They went to Chandler Macleod, who refused to accept the claims for decent pay and conditions, and a fair go, and were exploiting these people. They went to Fair Work and were ignored. They went to the CFMMEU and were abandoned, discarded and tossed out. They went to the local ALP MPs and were shown the door. The government agencies did nothing to help. And the Liberal state ministers these people approached did the same.
In closing, I have recently met some very, very brave people who stood up for a fair go against the powerful. I pay tribute to Simon Turner, to others who are suffering and to Stuart Bonds. We will do whatever we can to ensure justice for these people, justice for all casuals in the Hunter Valley, and make sure that BHP, Chandler Macleod and the CFMMEU are held accountable and made to pay for their collusion that has hurt so many people.
Hansard. Tuesday, November 12, 2019. Commenced 8.55pm.