UPPER Hunter MP Michael Johnsen believes coal workers deserve the security of permanent employment given to other casual employees by the Fair Work Commission.
He, along with federal minister for resources Matt Canavan, has called on Labor to support the Australian Government legislation to allow the “part-time” workforce in the mining industry to convert to permanent roles.
“This would be a winner for our working communities in the Upper Hunter, especially our miners and their families,” Mr Johnsen said.
“The federal Coalition’s Fair Work Amendment (Right to Request Casual Conversion) Bill 2019 looks to protect not just the industry, but also jobs and individual workers.
“Mining is one of four world-class industries in the Upper Hunter, the others being the wine, equine and bovine industries.
“And, they are all important to our lifestyle and economy.
“Job certainty for mining employees should be a priority for all mainstream political parties in the area.
“When will Labor stand up and join with the Nationals to support our local workers in the mining industry?”
Mr Canavan said the changes contained in the Fair Work Amendment (Right to Request Casual Conversion) Bill 2019 would benefit mining industry workers across Australia, including the tens of thousands of coal workers employed in places like the Hunter.
“A lot of mining companies have relied on having a mix of full-time and casual employees,” he explained.
“But, we know many of these workers would like to be put into a permanent position so they have access to the benefits and security that brings.
“The clock is ticking and the pressure is now on Labor to back the changes we’ve made to legislation to ensure coal workers can do that if they want to without further delay.
“State and federal Labor MPs and candidates should be on the phone telling Labor Leader Bill Shorten to back our amendments.”
Mr Canavan said, under the new legislation, all employees in the national system would have access to a minimum standard of a right to request casual conversion, which cannot be traded away, irrespective of whether their terms and conditions of employment are set by a modern award, enterprise agreement or any other arrangements.
“Last month, the government introduced legislation to allow regular casual workers in the black-coal mining industry to have the right to request conversion from casual work to permanent work after a 12-month period of employment in one business,” he added.
“We need Labor’s support to get the legislation through Parliament in the current term.
“Unfortunately, the party has so far failed to undertake to support this legislation.
“I am calling on Labor to support workers in the coal industry and promise to support this important legislation.”
But, Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon and Country Labor candidate for Upper Hunter dismissed the pair's claims, stating it was "completely untrue".
“Canavan and Johnsen’s comments about the Nationals protecting workers’ job security is misleading and false," Mr Fitzgibbon said.
"Contrary to their claims, this government has done nothing for Australian workers, particularly those stuck in casual work in the mining industry here in the Hunter.
“The government has once again refused to put workers first, by failing to bring on the Fair Work Amendment (Right to Request Casual Conversion) Bill for debate.
“For five years this government has denied there is a problem in the Hunter Valley coal industry with casualisation and precarious work.”
Increasingly, the oxymoronic term “permanent casual” is being used by employers to describe their employees.
This means thousands of people in the Hunter’s coal industry have been working like a full-time employee for years on end, but not knowing from day-to-day or week-to-week whether they still have a job, or how much money they will take home.
“While there are local workers who like the flexibility that casual work provides, for too many it means no sick leave, no holiday pay, no workers compensation, no overtime and no job security," Mrs Dagg added.
"It means they cannot get a home loan, finance for a car, or plan ahead."