Class action dropped: casual miners’ compensation hopes dashed

Published: 24 Aug 2021

The Mining and Energy Union has today dropped a class action seeking to recover an estimated $16 million in entitlements for about 900 current and former casual miners employed by labour hire company WorkPac.

The Renyard v Workpac class action was discontinued due to legal advice it could not succeed due to the recent High Court Rossato judgment and new, retrospective laws affecting casual workers introduced by the Federal Government in March.

General President Tony Maher said casual coal miners had hoped the class action would deliver justice, compensation and an end to the toxic ‘permanent casual’ employment model in the coal industry.

“We are extremely disappointed to discontinue this landmark class action on behalf of casual miners performing jobs that were permanent in nature, but without the security and entitlements of permanency,” he said.

“Casualisation is out of control in the coal industry and everyone knows it is simply a way for the big mining companies to cut costs and shift risk on to workers.

“Casual miners are rightfully angry that as soon as we had some legal wins exposing and clamping down on the ‘permanent casual’ rort, employers and the Morrison Government teamed up to retrospectively change the law.”

The Renyard v WorkPac class action was launched in 2019 following the 2018 Federal Court judgment in WorkPac v Skene, which found that casual coal miners in regular on-going employment with advance fixed rosters were not legally casual workers and were entitled to paid leave.

The class action was union-funded and covered union members who had been employed by WorkPac as a casual in the mining industry since 2013, with a long-term advance roster on a flat hourly rate. It would have paved the way for claims by other groups of current and former casual miners.

Mr Maher said that while the High Court decision was the nail in the coffin for the class action, its viability was effectively extinguished by new laws introduced by the Morrison Government with One Nation’s support in March.

The pared back IR Omnibus Bill overturned the Skene decision by introducing a new definition of casual based on the terms in the contract not the subsequent work arrangements. The High Court judgment of 4 August confirmed this view.

“Our union has been fighting the dodgy ‘permanent casual’ employment model in the courts for more than 15 years and I’m enormously proud of our significant achievements in this area,” said Mr Maher.

“We have exposed the rort and made it a national issue. But with a Federal Government determined to do the bidding of the big mining and labour hire companies, the only way now to address this issue is by changing the government.”