5 April 2024

Helensburgh coal worker sackings ruled unlawful by Federal Court

| Zoe Cartwright
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Former workers at Peabody’s Metropolitan Mine in Helensburgh have had a win. Photo: Peabody.

Workers at the Helensburgh coal mine made redundant in 2020 have been vindicated after a four-year court battle, union officials say.

The Federal Court has today (5 April 2024) ruled that 22 workers sacked in 2020 were not genuine redundancies, as similar work continued to be performed by contractors.

The Federal Court accepted arguments from the Mining and Energy Union that the affected permanent employees could have been reasonably redeployed.

The decision may assist in challenging future redundancies of permanent workers across the mining industry, where thousands of non-specialist jobs are outsourced to labour hire contractors.

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It’s been a long battle for the affected miners – and it’s not over yet.

In 2022, the Fair Work Commission determined that the sackings were not genuine redundancies, however their decision was appealed to the Federal Court by mine owner Peabody.

Peabody may still apply for special leave to appeal to the High Court.

If not, the matter will revert to the Fair Work Commission to decide on a remedy for the affected workers, which could include compensation or being rehired.

MEU South West District Vice President Bob Timbs said the 22 workers had fought a long battle for the important principle that mine owners shouldn’t cut permanent jobs while outsourcing comparable work.

When they were dismissed in June 2020, work at the site was being undertaken by contractors Mentser and Nexus.

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“These workers lost their jobs almost four years ago and they have endured a lengthy legal battle to fight for their own jobs and the principle of job security in the mining industry,” said Mr Timbs.

“Workers who are fortunate enough to have a permanent job don’t want to lose it, because it’s hard to get another one. Almost half of the coal mining workforce in the Southern District are labour hire contractors. It’s a model that employers have embraced to erode pay, rights, conditions and job security.

“If we can restore permanent work as the dominant model in our industry, everyone benefits.

“This is a fantastic legal decision and we thank our affected members and legal team who were determined to fight all the way; and all MEU members who collectively fund important legal cases to lift standards in our industry.”

Peabody has been contacted for comment.

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