Muswellbrook Shire mayor Martin Rush calls for state and federal politicians to change laws around casual employment in mining industry

MUSWELLBROOK Shire mayor Martin Rush believes it’s time politicians at both state and federal level stood up and changed the laws around casual employment in the mining industry.

The issue was at the forefront of his fortnightly column, Talking Point, in this week’s edition of the Chronicle.

Cr Rush, who is also standing as the Country Labor Upper Hunter candidate in the upcoming NSW Election, has been a strong advocate in cracking down on work casualisation and fly-ins.

“Over the past six or so years, the casual proportion of the mining workforce has increased from about 20 per cent to 40 per cent,” he wrote.

“At some pits, the figure is more than 50 per cent – much of it through labour hire companies offering significantly reduced conditions of employment. 

“Every few days or so, I hear a story of a casual mineworker working identical shifts to a permanent mineworker for continuous periods often exceeding four or five years. 

“They tell me they earn between 30 and 40 per cent less for performing identical work, that they are unable to obtain a mortgage and that they cannot make long-term family decisions.  

“Their stories are compelling. 

“They want, and yet cannot make the decision, to buy in Muswellbrook, to invest and fully-participate in local community activities – including participate as volunteers in our emergency services.”

Cr Rush said the permanent mineworkers were just as angry.

“They work alongside casuals who are doing the same work on the same shifts but see their workmates remunerated in a discriminatory way,” he explained.

“The impact goes beyond the mining workforce and affects the family unit as well.

“Financial uncertainty and job insecurity are triggers for household stress and impact on the wellbeing of the whole family. 

“Casualisation harms the local economy as a whole. 

“It affects disposable income and the money circulating in the local economy. 

“Against this background is an even more alarming trend in the labour market.

“Despite an 11 per cent productivity improvement (upwards of 15 per cent in the mining sector) none of that increase has flowed through to mining wages – which have been in decline in real terms for the past six years.”

A federal parliamentary committee this week called for a review into the use of labour hire workers and the number of casual employees in the mining sector.

It came after the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) used its submission to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Inquiry into the Mining Sector to call for state and federal government intervention to address the “explosion in the use of labour hire workers by the big mining companies” since 2012.

“While the CFMMEU is rightly to be congratulated for individual wins, the union is fighting with one hand tied behind its back,” Cr Rush said.

“But, I am pleased that the federal opposition has committed to ending the situation.

“Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon’s been particularly vocal and supportive.

“It is also pleasing to see that the New England MP, Barnaby Joyce, has given his support to Labor’s position. 

“It’s now time that the wider community started to engage the campaign to end what is essentially a discriminatory work practice, severely impacting mining communities like Muswellbrook.”