CFMEU wins appeal against BHP Operations Services dodgy agreements

Published: 8 May 2020

The full bench of the Fair Work Commission has upheld CFMEU Mining and Energy’s appeal against the approval of two enterprise agreements covering workers employed by BHP’s in-house labour hire provider Operations Services.

The full bench agreed with several of the CFMEU’s grounds of appeal including whether there was genuine agreement by workers and whether the agreements pass the ‘better off overall test’ compared with the Mining Industry Award and Black Coal Mining Industry Award.

CFMEU National President Tony Maher said today’s decision was a setback to BHP’s strategy of cutting wages by employing people on non-union agreements through an in-house labour hire provider.

“Operations Services has always been a strategy of BHP’s to drive down wages and conditions in the mining industry,” said Mr Maher.

“These agreements are dodgy and the decision to approve them was dodgy and it is good to see that recognised by the Full Bench in today’s decision.

“BHP already has perfectly good enterprise agreements in place at its coal operations and their Operations Services employees deserve the same pay and conditions as those directly employed workers alongside them.

“Today’s decision is an important win but the fight is not over yet.  Our message to Operations Services workers is that we are committed to bringing your pay and conditions up to par with BHP employees. Same work, same pay.”

Background:

In late 2018, BHP submitted two non-union Agreements to the Fair Work Commission to cover a new workforce employed by subsidiary Operations Services:

- Operations Services Maintenance Agreement 2018

- Operations Services Production Agreement 2018

Both agreements were voted on by a small number of non-union iron ore workers in WA. They are intended to cover a workforce of thousands in the coal industry in NSW and Queensland. The Production agreement was voted up by just 9 out of 16 employees, the Maintenance agreement by 37 out of 50.

Operations Services worker are currently deployed at BHP’s Mt Arthur coal mine in the Hunter Valley and a number of BMA coal mines in Central Queensland.

Even though BHP’s marketing says there is ‘no difference’ between BHP and OS, these agreements lock in far worse pay and conditions for OS employees.

The OS agreements provide for:

  • Pay rates of $30,000 to $50,000 a year less than current BHP coal agreements negotiated by the CFMEU
  • No pay rises over their four-year term
  • Workers can be transferred to any of the company’s operations nationally, including coal and iron ore, at any location at any time
  • No accident pay
  • Workers can be forced to work on Christmas Day.

The agreements were initially approved late last year and came into effect for OS employees from 26 December 2019.

The Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission will now rehear applications for approval of the agreements.