Miners were 'treated like dogs', inquiry told
TWO Tieri miners have claimed they were confined to a training room for seven consecutive shifts and "treated like dogs" after refusing to work underground.
The visibly emotional pair told a public hearing about an incident in December last year where they refused to go underground at Glencore's Oaky Creek North mine because of health and safety concerns not long after the name of the first man to have black lung disease was revealed.
While the pair hadn't made an official complaint, underground miner of 11 years Lachlan Jarrett told the Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis select committee hearing in Emerald how the group refused to go underground until they were cleared of black lung.
Glencore said it was respecting the employees' decisions and "not pressuring (the miners) to return to work". It also said the workers had been on "full pay" during that time.
But Mr Jarrett said: "The blokes who decided to stay out were sent out to the back corner of the mine site to a training room, it's away from all the main offices, it's a training room and it's got a contractors bathhouse next to it. We were told to go to that room and stay in that room and do not move until the under(ground) manager comes up."
"I continued to explain why I decided to stay out- peace of mind, security, I've got two young kids and I want to be able to be alive for them at the end of the day."
"I thought about it for a lot of days and was really worried about myself and my health and my safety. I had a child being born the next week, I had a lot on my mind that night."
Mr Jarrett's last five-yearly x-ray had been in September 2015 and was cleared of CWP by the medical team although the x-ray showed only one and a half of his lungs.
In December 2015, information revealed inadequacies in training of radiologists prevented a comprehensive diagnosis of black lung.
"You get chest x-rays every five years to make sure there's nothing wrong with you. We all felt safe and secure with that. And to get that misinformation that there may be something wrong with that process made me think well there may be something wrong with me," he said.
"It was just common sense for me to not put myself in an environment where I'd be exposed to coal dust until I knew if my lungs were fine and if I'd contracted this thing."
Underground miner for 15 years Mitchell Wyatte said the group offered to do alternative duties instead of going underground.
"We can still work, we'll work on the surface do extra tickets, get up to speed with anything, we'll do anything on the surface. We just don't want to expose ourselves to more dust," he told the hearing.
"We were sitting in a room with four walls, one fridge and a microwave they just wanted us to sit there. Every night we told them 'we're happy to do work'. 'No we've been told that you're to go into the room and stay there' they said.
"We were up there for seven nights. Just stuck in a room with four walls fridge and microwave and treated like dogs."
Mr Wyatte told the committee he was later transferred to a different job on site.
"They said 'you're going to be the dust man, since you care about dust so much you can look after the dust of the long haul'," he said.
Mr Jarrett claimed bullying like this had been an issue on site since December 2015.
"I heard them talking about Mitch one day, and they said the dust fairy will get on to it," he said.
"That's how comical someone's job is looking after dust."
In closing Councillor Assist Ben McMillan stated the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act "made it a criminal offence for any person to cause or attempt or conspire to cause any detriment to another person because that person has made a complaint or raised a concern about a safety issue".
"The Department of Natural Resources and Mines has an independent Commissioner for Mine Safety and Health that person has a statutory function to prosecute offences under the legislation, including this one," Mr McMillan said.
"Can I encourage you to peruse that if you wish to do that, and come back to this committee if you don't have any response from the commissioner."
The CQ News asked questions of Glencore on worker safety, worker job security and workplace bullying.
A Glencore spokesperson said the company respected their employees' decisions, "took their concerns seriously and made a conscious decision not to pressure them to return to work".
"Until the second readings of their chest x-rays became available, the employees remained on full pay and were accommodated in the training room while onsite," the spokesperson said.
"When the second readings became available and each employee received a clean bill of health, they immediately chose to return to work. Over the past year, as we've learned more about CWP and its background, we have taken a number of steps to educate, assist and support our people."