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Issue #1486      26 January 2011

Scrooge spirit at Upper Hunter coalmine

There was not much festive spirit on display from the management of an Upper Hunter Valley coal mine last Christmas. Some drivers at the open cut operation (run by a big Australian company associated with Newcastle’s now defunct steel industry) got presents and some very pointedly did not. A lamp that attaches to vehicle drivers’ hard hats was handed out to workers directly employed by the company while contract drivers missed out. So did workers who had been on the payroll for less than 100 days.

It wasn’t as if some workers had been “naughty” and others had been “nice”. All of the vehicle operators had been involved in the improvement to workplace safety that had prompted the company to hand on the bonus. The Lost Time Injuries (LTIs) for the work had been held at zero for 100 days and the lamp was to be seen as a reward. Instead it is a reminder of the glaring inequalities in the treatment of workers at the site.

Drivers engaged through labour hire outfit Tesa are paid $21 an hour compared to the $28.36 paid to a company driver. They do the same work as permanents. Some have worked there for years but the discrimination persists.

Trainees working through their two-year traineeships drive the same bulldozers, front end loaders and trucks (including the big mechanical drive vehicles) as their workmates. Their pay starts at $14 an hour for the first sixth months before inching up to $18 and then $21 an hour.

Zero LTIs at the mine are now approaching the 150-day mark. This is not just a matter of pride for the operator or a modest saving on the payroll. The company gets easier access to finance for its operations if it can show a low rate of lost production through workplace injury. The finance may come from the parent company but it still counts.

All of the workers at the Upper Hunter Valley mine were involved in the notable workplace safety achievement. All should be rewarded. The bigger issue of the different pay rates handed out for the same work must be sorted out. The discrimination cannot be justified.  

Next article – Climate change: Developed countries put world at risk

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