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New laws are in place to stop labour hire workers being paid less than permanents for the same work. A Central Queensland mine site has been identified as the first cab off the rank for a union-led application to bring labour hire wages up to the same rate as permanents.

Before Christmas, the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023 which contains ‘Same Job Same Pay’ provisions passed though the Federal Parliament.

The new laws passed with the support of key cross-bench Senators Jacqui Lambie and David Pocock despite the mining industry running an expensive-fear mongering campaign against higher wages for labour hire workers.

Central Queensland coal mineworkers have played a key role in our campaign, participating in campaign launches, speaking directly to politicians and providing evidence to the Senate.

The Coalition and One Nation did not support the Bill, with the Coalition declaring they are on the side of employers and One Nation arguing that there is no labour hire loophole to close.

These laws mean many labour hire coal mineworkers in QLD now have a pathway to wage justice. Here’s how they will work.

At a mine site where an Enterprise Agreement (EA) is in place covering direct employees, applications can be made to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for an order that labour hire employees must be paid at least the same as EA rates.

The FWC will then make an assessment that a Same Job Same Pay order would be fair and reasonable – including whether labour hire workers are performing the same work as EA employees – and can make an order setting a ‘Protected Rate of Pay’ (PROP).

The PROP will set out minimum pay rates in line with the relevant Enterprise Agreement and is how Same Job Same Pay would be delivered at a mine site.

Pay rises due to Same Job Same Pay orders issued by the Fair Work Commission will come into effect from November 2024.

There are exemptions for registered trainees and apprentices, short-term placements, small businesses and genuine service contractors.

The Fair Work Commission will apply a test to determine whether workers are considered labour hire or ‘service contractors’. In general, labour hire means workers supplied by a labour hire company to perform labour in roles which are supervised or managed by the mine operator. In contrast, the Commission will assess whether a company is a service contractor based on a number of facts, including whether a company is supplying their own supervisors and equipment for use by the workforce, and whether they perform specialist work on a site.

Callide mine in Biloela has been identified as the first cab off the rank in Queensland for a Same Job Same Pay application. Like many Queensland coal mines, Callide has experienced a steady replacement of permanent jobs with labour hire over the last few years.

Strong union membership among labour hire mineworkers and a Lodge committed to improving job security has already delivered improved conditions and more permanent jobs. High union density among Workpac employees on site, and our strong Callide Valley Lodge structure, make this an ideal place to make our first application for Same Job Same Pay. But Callide will be the first of many. We will spend the weeks and months ahead reviewing information and eligibility at each site and working through the legal requirements to ensure our applications to the Fair Work Commission are successful.

The best way to win Same Job Same Pay at your worksite is through the union. If you are a labour hire worker in the mining industry, there has never been a better time to join. The stronger the union density among labour hire workers at a site, the stronger our application for Same Job Same Pay will be. Let’s stand shoulder to shoulder and utilise these hard-won new laws to make fairer wages a reality.

Mitch Hughes

President Mining and Energy Union Queensland District

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