A new bill which would effectively ban 100 per cent FIFO policies was tabled in the Federal parliament yesterday by Queensland MP George Christensen.
The Member for Dawson said he would introduce the private members bill to parliament, backed by Member for Capricornia Michelle Landry, a move which was initially announced in March this year.
The new bill comes in the wake of a Queensland parliamentary inquiry into FIFO work practices which recommended amendment to anti-discrimination laws to include location of residence as grounds for employment discrimination.
Christensen said the bill will amend the Fair Work Act to specify that employers cannot discriminate against potential job applicants on the basis of where they live, other than in cases where living locally is an essential component of being able to perform the job.
Fair Work Act (2009 )Amendment 351A is entitled ‘Discrimination based on where a person lives’, and states that “An employer must not take adverse action against a person who is an employee, or prospective employee … because of where the person lives”.
BHPB Mitsubishi Alliance coal mines Daunia and Caval Ridge have been staffed by FIFO workers under their 100 per cent FIFO policy, which has impacted on local residents who do not meet employment criteria due to their residential location.
"This bill seeks to have federal law stating that no company can actually discriminate against people on the basis of where they live," Christensen said.
"If someone applies for a job and that person lives in Moranbah, they can't actively discriminate against that person because for whatever reason they want them to come out of Brisbane."
In parliament yesterday Christensen said that skilled and experienced local workers had been locked out of local employment opportunities because they “live too close to work”.
“For example, a search for Mackay and the Coalfields jobs on Seek this morning reveals a number of jobs available, such as this advertisement for a production superintendent, which is great news if you have all the right skills and experience, as long as you do not live anywhere near the work site because the ad stipulates: 'To be eligible to apply for this role you must reside within 100 kilometres of the Brisbane Airport',” he said.
“Such a secure lock-out of local workers has had a devastating effect on the regional economy, especially in towns like Moranbah and nearby centres like Mackay.”
Christensen said he would lobby government and the opposition for support, and that he also expected support from the CFMEU.
The Nationals Deputy Whip was critical of the Bligh Labor government for approving 100 per cent FIFO operations at Daunia and Caval Ridge, as well as the present Palaszczuk government for allowing the policy to continue.
“Before the Queensland 2015 election, Labor's policy document on this issue specifically said it would end existing 100 per cent fly-in fly-out operations near regional communities within 100 days of government—no doubt attracting plenty of votes from the most affected regions,” he said.
“But, more than 300 days after the election, they have walked away from that promise.”
In June this year the Queensland government approved the new Red Hill coal mine near Moranbah on the strict condition operation was not 100 per cent FIFO.
In the second reading Michelle Landry was also heavily critical of the Bligh government.
“The blame lies fairly and squarely with the Australian Labor Party, backed by the powerful CFMEU,” she said.
Landry even went as far as to suggest that 100 per cent FIFO policies had the “hallmarks of an apartheid system” based on postcode.
“If apartheid rules were not good enough for South Africa then they cannot be good enough for Central Queensland workers,” Landry said.
Queensland FIFO Inquiry chair Jim Pearce, a former Queensland coal industry worker, said there was a need for resource companies to “proactively demonstrate their social licence” by ending ‘postcode discrimination’.
“Workers should also be given the choice about whether they live in an accommodation village or in a nearby resource community with their family,” he said.
Landry scoffed at the recommendations of the Inquiry in her Second reading speech, claiming Labor were unable to “unwind the mess their own party created because it is enshrined in contract legalities”, and that she and Christensen had already drawn up the bill before the inquiry made its recommendations.
“Ironically, the Queensland review recommended changing the anti-discrimination act so mining companies cannot refuse to employ workers based on where they live,” she said.
“It is ironic because I told the CFMEU and Jim Pearce that that is what the federal representatives were already actively seeking to do.
“When I spoke at a community forum on jobs and the impact of 100 per cent FIFO on Mackay, hosted by the CFMEU and Jim Pearce, I told them that I and the member for Dawson were already drawing up such a bill.”
Both the Queensland Resources Council (QRC) and Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) have expressed their disapproval of proposed changes to the Anti-Discrimination Act (1991).
AMMA executive director Scott Barklamb disagreed with notions that workers should be allowed to have a choice of where to live in terms of FIFO or local arrangements, and said the proposed changes to anti-discrimination legislation would have a negative impact on Queensland businesses.
“Providing employees with a choice of where they live for work sounds fine in principle, but in practice the proposal would give rise to unwarranted lawsuits across Queensland workplaces, not just those in the resource industry,” he said.
QRC chief Michael Roche said changes to the Anti-Discrimination Act would be like “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.