Senate debates

Thursday, 13 February 2020


Workplace Relations

5:30 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to lend my arm to a group of workers in Queensland who are doing it tough. These are the workers of Greyhound Resources across a number of mines owned by BMC, BMA and the BHP Group, who have for the past two weeks been locked out of their workplace by their employer. These workers provide a vital service of transporting workers in the mining industry to and from some of the most remote locations in Australia. They provide a service to a sector that contributes billions of dollars to our economy—a sector that in many respects pays well. However, sadly, these drivers are some of the lowest paid across the mining supply chain. They are out of pocket thousands of dollars a year in travel costs, not met by their employer and not tax deductible. They must grin and bear these costs, and they are paid half as much as the miners they transport every day.

So what do the drivers do? They organise together as mates, the Australian way. You get together and you stand with each other. Supported by the Queensland branch of the Transport Workers Union, they began negotiating a new enterprise agreement that would see them receive a $4-an-hour pay increase, more say in their rostering and greater job security. They, in good faith, put their claims to their employer. When the employer refused to budge an inch, they exercised their democratic right and took part in an industrial action ballot, hoping that the employer would understand that they were determined to have a fair outcome. The overwhelming majority of these workers had never taken industrial action in their lives—certainly not whilst working for Greyhound Resources. They returned an overwhelming 94 per cent approval for a 45-minute work stoppage.

How did the company respond? They stood over those hardworking Australians and threatened to lock them out if anyone took part in legally protected industrial action, and they made good on that threat when six brave Australians stood up on behalf of their mates, their families and themselves to demand fair negotiations, fair payment and fair conditions. Arriving from work, these workers had their accommodation cancelled and were told to immediately pack their belongings. Those who normally flew in and flew out were dumped at Mackay Airport and told to find their own way home. They had no choice but to pool their money, hire a car and drive 10 hours back to Brisbane. This company should be ashamed of itself, because it knew full well what it was doing and why it was doing it: to stand over the workers.

The lockout has now been going for two weeks, in which Greyhound Resources is applying maximum pressure on these men, many of whom are in their 60s, and on their families and their communities. This is because this company, like many in the transport sector, is in a bitter race to the bottom on wages and conditions—a race to the bottom that sees the mining subsidiaries of BHP, BMA and BMC dictate low rates of pay through the tenders and contracts they offer to companies like Greyhound Resources. By the way, Senators, you may remember that BHP settled a $1 billion tax liability with the Australian Taxation Office only a few years ago.

This story is a clear example of why we have a wages crisis in this country, a crisis that hamstrings our economic growth. The RBA knows it. The unions know it. Certainly our communities know it. But too many in corporate Australia are deaf to the reality. This crisis of wages isn't because workers aren't working hard enough or aren't productive enough; it's because employers are refusing to pass profits on to workers in need of a pay rise. Because this government continually attempts to pass laws that attack the ability of working people to organise, these workers, now without pay for two weeks, are being supported by their friends and families and their union. There is a GoFundMe account set up to provide financial assistance to these workers, and I'd urge people to support it. I'd urge you to consider donating the support the government doesn't give. The link is available via my Facebook account.