Australian coal miners fought for and won long service leave entitlements over 70 years ago.
The Coal Industry Long Service Leave scheme born from the bitter seven-week coal strike of 1949 was the first scheme in Australia for blue collar workers and remains one of the most comprehensive in the world.
Unions have won significant improvements over the years, including reducing the qualifying period for 13 weeks leave from 10 to eight years, recognition of breaks in continuity of service and inclusion of contractors and labour hire workers in the scheme.
However, there are further important improvements needed to strengthen the scheme and remove barriers to all coal miners receiving the industry entitlements they deserve.
Our union has strongly advocated for changes in recent years through government and industry working groups, to address some serious issues that have emerged – in part due to the rapid rise in casualisation in coal mining since legislation governing the scheme was introduced.
We are hopeful that a review recently announced by the Federal Government will deliver constructive proposals that ensure no coal workers are left behind.
Feedback from our members shows the scheme works largely as intended and is viewed and experienced positively by most coal miners.
However, there are groups of workers facing difficulties accessing the entitlements due to them as coal mineworkers.
These include ‘stranded’ workers who are recognised as coal mineworkers under the Coal LSL scheme but whose employers refuse to participate, typically because they are mining services or maintenance businesses who argue they are not predominantly coal mining businesses. One example is our members at Hitachi, who work in Hunter Valley coal mines every day servicing equipment. They are coal workers who should be covered by the scheme and who have been accepted as eligible by Coal Long Service Leave, but their employer does not pay a levy or record their hours meaning they are unable to access this important industry entitlement.
These companies are non-compliant with their legal obligations under the Coal Long Service Leave Act.
Our union has backed a proposal developed in consultation with employers that gives these companies a pathway to becoming compliant that is fair to employees, recognising their past service, while not hitting employers with a prohibitive backpay bill or getting bogged down in lengthy legal proceedings. We hope the Government endorses this practical proposal.
Another issue that must be addressed is casual mineworkers not having all their work hours counted. This is due to a legislative provision requiring employers to limit hours recorded at 35 hours in a seven-day period. However this penalises casuals on typical rosters that compress hours into one week with fewer hours the following week. They get short-changed as there is no provision to average out the 35 ordinary hours over the roster cycle, as is the case for permanent employees. We strongly support a change to the method of calculating hours for casuals, so that all hours worked are averaged across the month.
Other significant issues needing to be addressed include the exclusion of shotfirers from the scheme and difficulties workers sometimes face in having past service recognised.
We will continue to support the Coal Long Service Leave scheme and advocate strongly for improvements to legislation compliance and enforcement to improve it.
For those wanting more information, read our submission.