South 32 exploiting COVID-19 crisis and change of mine plan to slash wages and safety standards

Published: 22 Jun 2020

South 32 has been cynically exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to drive down local contract mining wages and safety conditions according to the CFMEU Mining & Energy Division.

South 32 has responded to the pandemic by cutting some 250 contractor jobs over the past two months, mostly from the Appin mine. However, South 32 has targeted the job cuts cynically, to drive labour hire entities with acceptable records out of the region leaving only the cheapest and worst providers to pick up the slack.

South 32’s contract with Mastermyne has been torn up, with 200 workers cut and 50 workers from Nexus told to go. South 32 is now offering a large proportion of the work back through PIMS and WorkPac, which offer poorer wages and conditions, along with bonuses that are not well-aligned to safety outcomes.

“They say you should never waste a crisis and the slash and burn squad at South 32 certainly got the memo,” said CFMEU South Western District Vice President Bob Timbs.

“We accept the pandemic may have necessitated some short term cost cutting. But the calculated way that South 32 has exploited this health crisis to drive down wages in the Illawarra is shameful.”

“I know there are members who were employed through Mastermyne who have just quit the industry in disgust over this. Others are being forced to take their old jobs back with inferior deals through shoddier labour hire companies, like PIMS and WorkPac.

“Besides lower hourly rates, one big difference with PIMS and WorkPac is that it attaches bonuses to productivity outcomes instead of safety. So instead of getting bonuses for checking off safety standards, as was the case with Mastermyne, workers will be offered bonuses only if they hit productivity targets.

“This a sure-fire way to incentivise unsafe work practices and its exactly the sort of thing our union and the community has fought hard against in the past. We shouldn’t have to fight again."

Mr Timbs said while South 32’s tactics were complex, what the union was asking for was straightforward.

"All Illawarra coal workers are asking for is a clear public undertaking from South 32 that when they move around their contract workforce those workers will not be financially disadvantaged or compromised in terms of safety. They’re not asking for anything extra – just basic fairness," Mr Timbs said.

“South 32 should drop the cynical penny pinching, prioritise worker wellbeing, and just start being a half decent corporate citizen. This community has delivered a lot for South 32. This kind of tricky corporate bastardry is a shocking way to repay the favour.”