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Pandemic will force hundreds of workers to leave mining giant

BHP mine worker
BHP mine worker

Workplace policies to contain a highly contagious disease are widely expected to result in many departures from a multinational resources producer.

BHP might have to fill up to 700 positions that soon become vacant due to a companywide coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine mandate.

Employees across the nation are allegedly being furloughed, reviewed and forced to either resign or be dismissed unless they show proof of full vaccination – or have a valid exemption. The internal policy is speculated to affect up to 3 per cent of BHP’s 23,828-strong workforce, representing up to 714 Australians according to the company’s latest annual report.

About 35 per cent of affected individuals work for the Queensland operations. Up to 400 contractors and labour-hire workers are also affected.

The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) estimates at least 20 per cent of, or about 4765, BHP workers reluctantly took the jab to avoid losing their job.

“It is quite complex and very, very intense the way they went about it when they started issuing the [show cause] letters one or two days after January 31,” CFMEU Queensland district president Stephen Smyth said according to News Limited.

“We still do not know why the Queensland resources sector, which was not subject to a public health order, required vaccinations.”

Smyth is aware of at least 60 members who were allegedly stood down without pay due to the vaccine mandate. Others have voluntarily resigned and since found new work at Glencore or Bravus Mining and Resources. Some resorted to leaving the industry altogether.

“They have moved on and found work elsewhere because there is so much work up here,” he said.

BHP defended the vaccine mandate as a “necessary health and safety measure” to protect staff, their families and the broader community. It claimed the vast majority of workers have voluntarily been immunised, and promised to “work with our people” on the mandate.

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) recently rejected the CFMEU’s argument that forcing BHP staff to show proof of vaccination breached privacy laws, governing sensitive data collection.

The union questioned Blackwater Coal Mine for not accepting the so-called “green tick approach” of showing digital proof of vaccination certificates. However, FWC deputy president Ingrid Asbury ruled allowing just one unvaccinated BHP employee to enter the mine could be “catastrophic” for the workforce and broader community.

“It is neither safe nor reasonable to require that a coal mine operator use an access system for verifying vaccination status that is designed for hospitality and retail establishments,” she said in her decision.

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AMSJ April 2022