Mining at coalface of gig economy: inquiry

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Marion Rae
(Australian Associated Press)

 

The Uber-ised economy is delivering anxiety and danger for miners and their families, an inquiry has been told.

Wages paid to miners in regional areas are down by $400 million to $800 million because of the casualisation of the workforce, economist Stephen Whelan told a federal parliamentary hearing on job security.

“It’s a $45,000 difference on average for the individual worker and that’s somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent of mining workers in those particular regions,” he said on Tuesday.

That imposes a direct impact on the communities, as workers in that area are getting paid less income because of the way the pay is arranged and spend less in cafes, pubs or hardware stores in the regions.

Queensland union leader Michael Clifford said many also missed out on JobKeeper wage support because they were classified as casual.

Miner Wayne Goulevitch said his crew hadn’t seen a full-timer taken on for seven years.

“Clearly when casual workers outnumber full-time employees by two to one ‘supplemental’ can no longer be used as a word to describe them,” he said.

Labour hire firm One Key Resources, a leader in coal mining, defended workforce arrangements.

“Experience tells us many people enjoy this flexibility,” managing director Ben Lewis said.

Less than one per cent had opted for conversion to full-time work, a right in their contracts, he said.

Domestic violence support worker Terese Kingston from Mackay said the impact on women intensified during the pandemic, with a 20 to 25 per cent increase in police referrals for support services.

“For a woman in casual work who is unable to access sick leave or domestic violence leave, her ability to safely leave an abusive situation is reduced significantly,” she said.

“Tragically their names turn up on the court lists a few months later.”

Shell companies are being set up to contract casual staff through labour hire companies to circumvent entitlements for permanent company staff, the committee was told.

Recent federal law changes mean casual workers can ask to be made permanent and seek arbitration in the courts.

Labor plans to make security of employment an objective of the Fair Work Act.

“We need same job, same pay,” Labor leader Anthony Albanese said after a mine visit.

“This is an issue of wages, it’s an issue of conditions. But it’s also an issue of safety.”

Third-generation coal miner and union representative Stephen Smyth says he sees on a daily basis what insecure work is doing to the industry, including more accidents at work.

Mr Lewis dismissed fears of retribution about reporting safety issues.

“That is certainly not the experience I have seen.”

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