New drug testing arrangements at the Goonyella Riverside Mine will continue as planned following a Supreme Court decision in favour of operator BMA.
An application by the Queensland state branch of the CFMEU to declare that criteria for assessment for drug testing of workers at the mine were not lawfully established was denied on Monday, allowing BMA to continue with the change from saliva swab testing to urine testing implemented in mid-2015.
The change was deemed necessary by BMA on the understanding that saliva testing was not sufficient for detecting workers who had used methamphetamine.
It is understood that the local CFMEU lodge was supportive of the decision to switch to the more reliable method of drug testing last year, leading up to a site-wide vote on the matter, however the state branch intervened after only 45.66 per cent of the turnout voted in favour of the change, to 37.49 per cent against, failing to achieve a result which showed the majority of workers at the mine supported the change.
Of 1579 workers eligible to vote, 721 voted for the change, 592 voted against, 4 lodged informal votes and 257 did not vote.
The CFMEU conceded that the Goonyella site supervisor had made a “reasonable attempt to establish…agreement with the majority of workers” in accordance with section 42(7) of the Coal Mining Safety and Health Regulation (2001), but contended that a majority of workers had disagreed with the proposed assessment criteria.
Counsel submitted that a majority of workers at the mine disagreed with the criteria on the basis that workers who did not vote should be regarded as having failed to agree to the proposed criteria, a point which the court did not accept.
BMA Asset President Rag Udd said the company was surprised by the CFMEU’s challenge the new arrangements, which he said was already helping to create a safer work environment.
“Since Goonyella Riverside adopted new urine screening procedures a number of cases of drug and alcohol use have been detected, including methamphetamine, commonly referred to as ice,” he said.
“Our analysis shows that compared to the previous year, the detection rate for substance use has increased approximately five fold since the improved regime was introduced.”
Udd said BMA would make its case to the State Government that the current review of Queensland’s mine safety legislation should support the industry’s efforts to improve safety by preventing people impaired by drug use from entering our sites.
CFMEU Mining and Energy division Queensland district president Steve Smyth said the union supported appropriate and responsible measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of coal mine workers, and that any suggestion to the contrary was irresponsible and unfounded.
“The proceedings were significant in clarifying the correct interpretation of the legislation, including the importance of worker participation and involvement where new procedures are sought to be implemented,” Smyth said.
“It is important that workers have a say and are involved in these decisions because at the end of the day it is their health and safety we are trying to protect.
“The procedures needed to be looked at critically to ensure they are of substantive benefit to the safety and welfare of workers.
“For example, assertions that increased detection rates can be attributed to a change in the method or type of testing may not take into account that an increase in the number of tests being done is responsible for the increased detection.”
Smyth said only two of 36 recently detected cases of methamphetamine use were attributable to permanent employees directly employed by BHP, and that the increased levels of detection were related to an “overwhelming proportion” of workers employed in insecure work, specifically those employed by contractor and labour hire firms.
“There are serious drug and alcohol issues that arise in the industry, including those exacerbated by the increased demands on workers through roster and work arrangements,” he said.
“Companies must engage meaningfully with their workforce to understand why that is happening and what is the best way of dealing with it.
“If the company is serious about dealing with drug and alcohol abuse and related mental health issues, they need to stop the proliferation of insecure work.”
Smyth said it was important to recognise that drug abuse is a mental health issue, and that mental health problems were more prevalent among workers under the pressure of insecure working conditions.
“We know from research that FIFO contract workers are more vulnerable than permanent workers living in community to a range of health and safety issues including mental health issues,” he said.
“Similarly, they are in a more vulnerable position than permanent workers. For example they can be sacked at a moment’s notice and do not receive sick or annual leave entitlements that allow them to take a break when needed.
“Perhaps, most importantly, they are less likely to speak with their employer about safety, health, and mental health issues for fear of their job security.
“The fact is that employees in permanent steady jobs are more likely to put their hand up when they need help with a mental health issue and get the support they need.”