DRUG FREE: New drug testing laws are in place at the BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance’s Goonyella Riverside Mine.
DRUG FREE: New drug testing laws are in place at the BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance’s Goonyella Riverside Mine. Tara Miko

Mining union disappointed court dismissed its challenge

THE CFMEU has expressed disappointment in the Supreme Court of Queensland's decision to dismiss the union's challenge of a new drug testing regime at the BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance's Goonyella Riverside Mine.

The mining union applied to the Supreme Court of Queensland to declare the implementation of the drug testing policy as not lawfully established.

BMA said the number of workers testing positive to illegal drugs and alcohol had increased 500% since the new testing program was introduced.

But the CFMEU claimed only two of the 66 cases of recently detected methamphetamines were attributed to permanent employees directly employed by BHP.

While the union supported responsible measures to protect the safety and well-being of workers, the Supreme Court challenge related to the manner in which BMA sought to implement the new procedure and the associated voting requirements prescribed by the Coal Mining Safety and Health Regulation 2001.

The regulation requires the company to seek the agreement of workers to implement the proposed changes. While less than half the workers at the mine agreed to the change in procedure, the change was approved. The union argued that those who did not vote on the issue should be deemed to have disagreed with the change.

CFMEU Mining and Energy division Queensland district president Steve Smyth said the union supported appropriate and responsible measures to ensure the safety and well-being of coalmine workers and any suggestion to the contrary was irresponsible and unfounded.

But he said effective consultation was also critical.

"The proceedings were significant in clarifying the correct interpretation of the legislation, including the importance of worker participation and involvement where new procedures are sought to be implemented," Mr Smyth said. "It is important that workers have a say and are involved in these decisions because, at the end of the day, it is their health and safety we are trying to protect.

"The procedures needed to be looked at critically to ensure they are of substantive benefit to the safety and welfare of workers.

"For example, assertions that increased detection rates can be attributed to a change in the method or type of testing may not take into account that an increase in the number of tests being done is responsible for the increased detection.

"There are serious drug and alcohol issues that arise in the industry, including those exacerbated by the increased demands on workers through roster and work arrangements.

"Companies must engage meaningfully with their workforce to understand why that is happening and what is the best way of dealing with it.

"There is significant anecdotal evidence that an overwhelming proportion of any increased detection at Goonyella Riverside relates to workers employed in insecure work, specifically those employed by contractor and labour hire firms.

"If the company is serious about dealing with drug and alcohol abuse and related mental health issues, they need to stop the proliferation of insecure work."