Rio Tinto’s Hail Creek coal mine has been fined $50,000 after illegally standing down an injured miner.
The worker, Michael Haylett, was originally injured in bulldozer accident in 2009, which caussed a spinal injury.
In 2014 Haylett was awarded $626,280 in damages for these injuries sustained while operating the bulldozer.
Rio Tinto had formerly admitted fault for the injuries, which necessitated spinal surgery, and retrained Haylett for duties as a drill rig operator, a position he operated in for three years.
However, Rio Tinto then stood down Haylett after he was awarded compensation in 2014, asserting that he didn’t hold a valid health assessment.
Haylett retained his position in August 2014 after challenging Rio Tinto in the Supreme Court, but a year later Rio Tinto requested a second health assessment.
The judge at the time said Hail Creek had “prevailed upon” a doctor to change his medical assessment of Haylett to state he was unfit for work – despite it stating he was fit subject to restrictions , when they were dissatisfied with the outcome of his examination.
Based on the revised assessment, Hail Creek stood down Haylett without wages in September 2014, an act which saw Haylett take Rio Tinto to court.
Now a Federal judge has handed down the $50,000 penalty against Rio Tinto for breaching the Fair Work Act, with the CFMEU stating the company has been ‘victimising’ the miner.
Justice John Reeves described the attempt to influence the assessing doctor as “disgraceful”, and said the case had a remarkable history which was characterised by the resilience of Haylett and “recalcitrance” of Rio Tinto.
“It’s not something that the employer can use to dispose of workers because they’re suffering from a disability,” Justice Reeves said of the health assessment scheme.
“It’s a process that requires assessment in the interests of the worker every five years to ensure that they’re not being affected by working in a coal mine.”
CFMEU mining and energy division district president Steve Smyth has welcomed the new judgement, calling the case a ‘David and Goliath battle’ against Rio.
“Michael Haylett, Hall Payne Lawyers, and the union have been fighting this case for three years, and Michael is finally getting justice against one of the world’s biggest mining companies for his unfair sacking,” Smyth said.
“Rio Tinto has been running a vendetta against Michael Haylett for years, and the way the company acted in this matter – beginning with the heavy-handed and illegal sacking of a worker, to ignoring a Supreme Court order – is appalling and the penalty of $50,000 against them is deserved.
“Haylett has been through three years of legal proceedings to hold Rio Tinto to account for their improper actions, and today is his victory.”
The CFMEU went on to state that the Federal Court found Rio Tinto’s decision to stand down Haylett was made in direct retaliation for him winning his damages claim, and was in breach of the Fair Work Act.
“Justice Reeves made clear in his judgment that he did not think Rio Tinto has any remorse for its treatment of Haylett, and that it acted deliberately to break the law to sack a worker out of spite.”
The judgement will now allow for Haylett to be awarded compensation, as well as back pay for the time he spent stood down by Rio Tinto, the sum of which will be determined later this week.