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Fair Work rejects dispute over mining giant’s vaccine-related sacking

Blackwater Coal Mine
Blackwater Coal Mine

Australia’s workplace relations tribunal will let a multinational resources company terminate employees based on individual medical decisions.

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) rejected the latest challenge to BHP’s requirement that workers are fully vaccinated against coronavirus (COVID-19) as a condition of employment.

The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and other unions failed to convince the full bench that forcing staff to show proof of vaccination breached privacy laws, governing sensitive data collection.

Industry advocates also questioned why Blackwater Hotel accepted the so-called “green tick approach” of showing digital proof of vaccination certificates while Blackwater Coal Mine did not.

“Mine workers should not lose their jobs if they are not ready to get vaccinated, or do not want to share their vaccination status with BHP,” Queensland mining division president Stephen Smyth told Fairfax Media.

“Reinstatement is unlikely for workers who receive a ‘show cause’ letter and do not comply with the site access requirement to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as determined by the FWC.”

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.

“Mine sites are not hotels, they are workplaces under [BHP’s] control and in respect of which there are a broad range of statutory and common law obligations to ensure the health and safety of all persons who access them.”

BHP confirmed more than 91 per cent of its Bowen Basin employees had already produced evidence of full vaccination on 30 January 2022. Only 400 out of 11,000 employees and contractors had not shown proof at the time of publication.

The employer then accused two workers of producing fake vaccination certificates, and hoped FWC’s decision would discourage the practice.

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