One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts is best known for his conspiracy theories, in particular the idea that a shadowy cabal of bankers is in cahoots with the UN to establish a global government.
Now, he has brought his conspiracy mindset to the mining industry, making claims in parliament of a conspiracy between the union and industry bodies leading to the casual labour hire crisis across the industry, especially at BHP's Mount Arthur coal mine.
Senator Roberts is absolutely right that the casual labour hire business model driven by mining companies in recent years is a disgrace and has led to terrible outcomes to workers. Where he's wrong is in what has led to this systematic exploitation of casuals across the mining industry, which he appears to have just discovered.
Where he's a complete hypocrite is that One Nation has consistently voted against the interests of mineworkers in parliament - opposing legislative solutions that would stop big mining companies systematically exploiting casuals.
Companies attacking workers' rights in order to make bigger profits does not require any conspiracy, it's simply business as usual. Almost three decades ago, dear departed media mogul Kerry Packer gave his classic insight into the mindset at the top end of town: "I pay whatever tax I am required to pay under the law, not a penny more... if anybody in this country doesn't minimise their tax they want their heads read."
Substitute BHP and workers' pay and you get the picture: BHP gives workers what it can get away with under the law. Not a penny more. Why wouldn't they drive down wages and undercut well-paid union-negotiated site agreements by outsourcing permanent jobs to lower-paid casual labour hire if the law says they can?
Under federal employment law, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) can approve enterprise agreements that pay significantly less than union collective site agreements, so long as it judges that workers are better off overall than the Black Coal Mining Industry Award. And it does. That includes allowing for casual work, even though the Black Coal Award doesn't allow for casual work. Despite arguments from the union, the FWC doesn't consider casual work to be a detriment to workers, so long as they receive a casual loading.
We may disagree with that, but that's the law as it stands. So, if we want to end the exploitation of casuals in the mining industry, we need to change the law. That's why our union campaigned hard for 'same job same pay' laws at the last election, to prevent labour hire workers being paid less than permanents. One Nation opposed these laws.
The union has campaigned hard for real casual conversion rights, so that casuals have the right to convert to permanent work after a period of time, not just to 'request' it. One Nation opposed this.
To change the case law in this area, we funded and ran the landmark matter of Workpac v Skene, with the Federal Court finding that the 'permanent casual' work model used in coal mining - where the pay is casual but the nature of the work is permanent - is unlawful. It is this Skene decision won by the union that is now being relied on by class action lawyers to run cases on behalf of casual labour hire workers.
Employer groups' efforts to overturn the Skene decision have been backed by One Nation, who would prefer that employers just nominate whether a worker is casual or not without reference to the nature of their work. In September, One Nation senators Malcolm Roberts and Pauline Hanson voted against measures that would allow casual coal miners to claim unpaid entitlements like annual leave when they had been unlawfully employed as casuals. They dismissed it as 'double-dipping'.
It is disappointing but unsurprising, given One Nation's consistent record of opposing penalty rates, measures to improve workplace safety and union rights. Under six years of Coalition government, casual labour hire has grown out of control and One Nation has backed their workplace relations agenda all the way.
One Nation has consistently voted against mineworkers' interests.
CFMEU representatives were at BHP's AGM last week, challenging directors and executives about the company's new in-house labour hire subsidiary Operations Services, which is employing people on 40 per cent less than workers on the site agreement. One Nation was nowhere to be seen. They are more interested in using exploited workers as a backdrop for their grandstanding than they are in doing the hard yards of taking on big companies and changing the law to protect workers.
It is time for One Nation to tell mineworkers when they are going to stop blaming everyone else and take real action in parliament to back 'same job same pay' and an end to the 'permanent casual' rort.
We'll be waiting.