The Guardian August 16, 2000


Testing campaign

Workers at Queensland's South Blackwater coal mine have postponed a vote 
on a process for drug testing until next month as a result of their 
employer's continued attempt to impose a drug testing regime aimed 
primarily at giving the company more power to sack its workforce.

The workers and their union, the Mining and Energy Division of the CFMEU, 
support testing that has as the main objective measures for improving 
workplace health and safety.

The company last week stood down miners who refused to supply a urine 
sample on demand.

An Australian Industrial Relations Commission decision allows for a 12-week 
time frame for discussion between management and the union to finalise an 
agreement on drug testing of workers. But this has not been voted on 
because the company refuses to agree to a paid stop-work meeting.

Taking the crucial nature of the issue into account  negotiations have 
been going on for 10 months  the workers decided to wait until their next 
monthly meeting, in September, before deciding whether to support the 12-
week process.

The company began standing workers down on Monday, August 8, despite an 
order from the Commission that a refusal to take the tests did not 
constitute industrial action.

On August 8 the company announced that all workers would be required to 
provide a urine sample at the commencement of their shifts. Three workers 
refused and were stood down. As a result the remaining 250 workers went on 
strike for 24 hours.

On an application by the company, the Commission then issued "return to 
work" and "refrain from engaging in industrial action" orders, using 
section 127 of the federal Workplace Relations Act.

But the Commission also excluded a refusal to take the drug test from its 
definition of industrial action. Ignoring this the company on Tuesday 
continued to require people to supply urine samples and, when they refused, 
stood them down. 

By Thursday morning the entire workforce had been stood down. The company 
then decided to withdraw its demand for samples and work resumed.

The 12-week time frame would include three stages. The first would be a 
"blind" test where samples remain anonymous. This would involve union 
officials checking participants off a list which is then destroyed.

There would be no bar coding of the samples, and the results could not to 
be used by the employer in any way in any court or commission for any 
purpose. The employer is entitled only to use the results internally for 
the development and application of education programs.

The second stage is a four-week period when the parties are to reach an 
agreement on drug testing procedure, policy and protocol.

If an agreement is reached the next stage would be an eight-week period 
during which a fatigue testing and drug testing procedure, that would form 
part of a common, and over-arching, "Fitness for Duty" impairment testing 
regime, would be finalised.

This would include the use of non-intrusive testing, based on reaction-time 
tests to either pupil-dilation or psycho-motor tests (which measure average 
reaction times).

Following this there would be agreed procedures for people to be tested for 
alcohol, drugs, fatigue and stress, all with the object of providing 
counselling and rehabilitation, as opposed to penal provisions for 
punishment, which is the agenda of the South Blackwater management.

After the 12-week period, if there is no agreement both parties go back to 
square one.

The workers are not opposed to drug testing per se, CFMEU State Secretary 
Andrew Vickers told The Guardian. "But they're opposed to drug 
testing in isolation, and they're opposed to drug testing on the basis that 
people have something in their system which may, or may not, impair them.

"What they want is an impairment testing regime, which at the end of the 
day may be used to pick up whether that impairment is caused by the 
existence of drugs or alcohol, or fatigue or stress."

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