Rio Tinto Hail Creek coal mine fined for denying workers sick leave

Rio Tinto has been fined $24,000, payable to the CFMEU, after it denied workers access to paid sick leave.

A court this week found the mining company contravened the existing enterprise agreements (clause 13.7) with six permanent workers, Alan Atherton, Christopher Clooney, Paul Duncan, Robert Gibbs, David Halford, and Robert Hoffman, by denying them accesses to paid personal level due to sickness or injury, in a case brought by the CFMEU

Between December 2013 and March 2014, Rio Tinto sent the workers a letter claiming they had exceed their allowed number of sick days, stating the days off “exceeds relevant legislative entitlements”, and workers now had to work the requisite number of hours to rebuild their sick leave entitlements.

According to the presiding justice John Logan, Rio Tinto was prompted to this action “by a desire on the part of the company to reduce, if lawfully possible, its overall labour costs”.

In the case of Atherton, following an arm injury Rio counted his days off not as sick leave but as paid annual leave.

Cooney, after receiving the letter, no longer applied for sick days and either attended work, applied for annual leave, or took unpaid sick leave, as did Duncan and Gibbs.

All of the workers have since settled with Rio Tinto in a previous case following a review of the incident, with “correspondence sent by the company to each of the other workers notifying an intention to re-credit annual leave where that had been taken when sick or, as the case may be, to make payment in respect of leave taken when sick but not hitherto paid”.

This was done “both as a gesture of good faith and as a way to amicably resolve the dispute” Rio Tinto stated at the time.

In this latest case, brought by the union, Hail Creek was found to not only contravened the existing enterprise agreements, but also the Fair Work Act.

Logan went on to state the workers’ families had also been affected by Hail Creek’s decision.

“To reduce an annual leave entitlement is to reduce a worker’s enjoyment of the amenities of life away from the workplace and the greater opportunity for the related society of friends and family,” he said.

Justice Logan also stated the payment was to be made within the space of a month.

Commenting on the decision, a Rio Tinto spokesperson stated, “Hail Creek Mine prides itself on considering the needs of employees during periods of illness.”

“We accept the decision of the Court and we will continue to assess each employee’s circumstances in accordance with the law.”

Hail Creek enterprise agreements were in focus in 2014 after a number of ‘extravagant’ ambit claims made during the negotiation process were blamed for helping to hurt the miner’s competitiveness.