Rio Tinto’s Hail Creek Coal mine west of Mackay.
Rio Tinto’s Hail Creek Coal mine west of Mackay. Contributed

Rio Tinto to pay $24,000 for refusing to pay sick leave

RIO Tinto's Hail Creek Coal has been ordered to pay $24,000 to the CFMEU after the mine refused to pay six workers sick leave.

Yesterday the Federal Court found Hail Creek - managed by Rio Tinto - broke its enterprise agreement with six employees when the company refused to pay them for sick leave between 2014 and 2016, breaching the Fair Work Act.

Justice John Logan said each of the six workers was entitled to be paid for sick leave but the company wrote to the employees saying they had exceeded their entitlements.

One employee took sick leave for 181 shifts in about 11 years.

In February 2014 he received a letter from his employer, saying his sick leave had exceeded relevant entitlements and that any further sick leave would be unpaid.

At the time he received the letter, the staff member was on approved sick leave for injuring his arm and was paid annual leave instead of sick leave for those seven days.

The situation was similar for other employees that formed part of the case that the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union took to the Federal Court.

Another employee had taken 75 shifts as paid sick leave in five years and used annual leave or unpaid leave when he was sick between 2014 and 2016.

Under the company's enterprise agreement, employees were entitled to personal leave - including sick leave - to at least the National Employment Standards - 10 days.

Justice Logan said Hail Creek Coal gave the employees misleading and false advice about the existence of paid sick leave.

His judgment also said Rio Tinto told the employees that it would re-credit annual leave or re-pay the sick leave if it had been taken without pay.

Justice Logan said Hail Creek's breach of the enterprise agreement had not been victimless.

"Each of the workers and, indirectly where they have them, their dependents has been affected," he said.

The effects on the workers were not only financial, Justice Logan said, but also emotional because it had disturbed their understanding and experience of paid sick leave entitlements. In some cases, Justice Logan said staff would have felt compelled to go work, even though they were entitled to sick leave.

A Rio Tinto spokesman said today that it accepted the court's decision and would continue to assess employee circumstances according to the law.

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