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Fair Work Australia has upheld the right of mining contractor HWE to take urine samples of workers, despite protests from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.
The CFMEU has previously been pressing HWE to phase out urine testing and replace it with saliva testing.
But in a ruling last week Fair Work said it was “eminently reasonable” for HWE to continue urine tests.
The Union claimed urine testing for drug use, particularly cannabis, was a breach of privacy and returned misleading results.
It said actual impairment from THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, lasted for hours rather than days.
Saliva tests will only detect THC a few hours after consumption, when the user is actually impaired, while urine testing can detect THC days after use, when impairment is not relevant to work.
“In a practical sense the dispute is ultimately about an intrusion into employees’ privacy and whether employees who consume cannabis privately while on an extended break from work should be exposed to a risk of a positive urine screening test when there is no prospect that they remain impaired when they return to work,” Fair Work said.
Despite the development of a national standard for saliva testing, HWE maintained the method had unacceptable flaws, and in its ruling Fair Work agreed.
The tribunal said there were “… compelling rational reasons for regarding saliva testing as less effective than urine testing, notwithstanding there is now an Australian Standard for saliva testing”.
Fair Work said urine testing was superior to saliva because it was more reliable, accurate, and able to detect chronic and regular use of cannabis.
Earlier this year the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union slammed Caterpillar’s plan to use urine testing as “outdated and inaccurate”.
The AMWU said the method was “more focused on controlling the lifestyle of workers outside of work — rather than the workplace.”
The nature of the resources sector is such that workers impaired by drugs pose serious safety threats, and debate over the correct way to test for drugs has been a long running industry issue.