WorkPac – the Horrors of Casual Labour Hire.

Labour Hire. The term may bring tears of joy to employers and the Federal government, however it brings tears of dismay to employees.

It’s instructive to read and listen to quotes from conservative politicians, employer groups, some journalists and a lunatic fringe,
usually from Queensland, including PHON people. With such a plethora of ‘fake news’ surrounding casual labour hire, I thought I would write of my recent experiences under the regime.

There are two major advantages to employers in using labour hire:

  1. It’s cheaper – there’s no holiday pay, sick pay, or public holidays to be paid and super is only paid on 38.5hrs per week, regardless of hours worked.
  2. The labour can be stood down with one hour’s notice – no redundancy payments, no need to redeploy.

It’s a very different story for employees:

  1. There is no job security, you can be given one hour’s notice.
  2. If you get sick, even on the job, there is no sick pay – I’ll write an example of this latter.
  3. There is no holiday pay and you’re not paid for public holidays
  4. It’s virtually impossible to get big ticket (house / car) loans, as you don’t have any job security.

Currently, it is believed almost 30% of Australians are employed as casuals and the figure is growing weekly. Here, it should be remembered that all these casual people are counted as fully employed, indeed, under the current Federal Government system, anyone working one hour a week or more, is counted as employed. Yet people continue to spruik how good the system is for the nation. One thing you can guarantee, is none of those espousing the benefits, are employed as casuals.

The casualization of the workforce has been happening since John Howard introduced Work Choices and at the same time, emasculated the unions. Gradually labour hire companies, which previously existed in a more honourable, fair system, supplying a much needed niche to industry, morphed into the voracious monster we are faced with today. The mining industry especially, has found the system extremely convenient, if I was to hazard a guess, around 35% of all mine workers are labour hire people.

People often talk disparagingly of FIFO mining workers, there’s very little sympathy for any issues these workers may bring up, as they are perceived to be earning a lot of money, which at first glance, is correct, however, all is not as it seems.

Long ago, both the mining and transport industries, by nature, offering long hour jobs, involving regular shifts, (usually 12hrs per shift), worked out it was easier to average out what a worker could expect to bring home each week, with penalty rates (overtime) included and pay the averaged out figure as the hourly / flat rate.

To explain how it works, I’ll use my own position. I usually drive a 310t gross three trailer roadtrain, too big to be driven on public roads, there is no comparable job in Perth, however if we take what’s known as a ‘Pocket Roadtrain’ (two trailers, 75t gross), seen daily on roads around capital cities, the basic going rate for the last couple of years, has been $34.00 per hour. So time and half equals $51.00 and double time equals $68.00.

A normal swing at the mine site, is two weeks, comprising seven consecutive 12hr day shifts, followed by seven consecutive 12hr night shifts, then you fly home. I should mention here that you are required to be at the airport at least an hour before your flight to work, say 5.00am, but you’re not paid until 9.00am that first day. You are not paid on the day you fly home – you’ll finish work at 6.00am, shower and change at the camp, get the bus to the airport at 7.30am for an 8.30am flight, arriving at Perth airport around 11.00am.

The swing, over 14 days, takes in two weekends, all 12hr shifts. Using the industry averaging system, if one takes $34.00 as the base rate, then adds all the penalty rates applicable, gross earnings for the period amount to $7,752.00. Divide that by 168hrs (12hr shifts over 14 days) and it works out to a gross hourly rate of $46.00ph (rounded to the nearest dollar), which, as you’d expect, is the hourly rate I was offered, accepted and worked for.

In May last year, I heard that Rio Tinto was looking for roadtrain drivers. I enquired, they were (still are), however one had to apply via WorkPac, one of the largest labour hire companies in Australia, the other being Chandler McLeod, of whom I will write later.

I was grateful to be given the job and after the prerequisite medical etc and around 12 hours of online inductions, for which I was paid, I flew up to Rio Tinto’s Brockman One site. From that moment on, WorkPac really don’t exist, except that at the end of each week, you fill out a WorkPac time sheet that Rio send off to Workpac. There is a WorkPac representative in Tom Price, but if you have a question, she won’t have the answer. You work for Rio Tinto, under Rio’s instructions and rules. Supposedly you can give an hour’s notice that you’re not coming to work, but the reality is you’d be out of a job very quickly and you get charged circa $200.00 per day for food and accommodation.

Getting sick at work is out of the question – you are not paid. Getting injured would fall under Worker’s Compensation, although if the company you work for uses ComCare, God help you! Here it gets interesting – if you feel crook – the flu or similar, unlike a fulltime worker, you don’t get paid – you’ll lose $552.00 for that shift. So contrary to sensible medical advice, casual workers swallow headache and cold and flu tablets and soldier on.

I had a very interesting experience in February this year. We were told the camp had several cases of Nova Gastro Virus (70 and growing!) and that if we felt any symptoms, we should report to our supervisors. Several days into the swing, I had (no dignity here) a dose of the trots and felt unwell. It was the change from day to nights and when I awoke in the early afternoon, I decided I was crook and rang the supervisor.

I was ordered into isolation for 48hrs, which I had no argument with, given the circumstances. Nobody came to see me, however a paramedic rang me, asked a few questions and ordered the isolation. I was well looked after with food and bottled water and a paramedic ringing to check on me daily. At the end of the second day, the paramedic decided that I should stay in isolation one more day, just to be sure.

Now that is a loss of $1,656.00 in pay, serious money, unless you’re a politician. When I reported for work the following night, I asked the supervisor what I should put on the time sheet. He said, “Are you a casual worker?” To which I replied, “Yes, but you guys ordered me into isolation and if I did have something, which we don’t know, as I never saw a doctor, then I caught it here, so I feel I should be paid.”

I put in a time sheet with the three days of 12hrs. The supervisor changed it, telling me the superintendent (these are all Rio people – at this point, WorkPac had no idea of what was going down) wouldn’t allow it, once it crossed his desk. I asked to see the superintendent, who was not exactly welcoming and promptly threw his supervisor under the bus, saying he, as Superintendent, had nothing to do with the process, he just sanctioned the annual gross payment to WorkPac, the supervisors handled individual weekly wage approvals. A very heated argument ensued. Full credit to the Superintendent, by the next morning, he had changed his mind and I was paid in full.

That’s fine for me, but another worker might not be in a positon to argue (weighed down by mortgages etc), or even able to argue – these guys are always alpha males – what then? As a casual worker, you usually loose.

There are three categories of workers, apart from contractors, at a Rio site and again, I’ll use the Haulage division as the example:

  • Full time Rio employees – usually on a 12 month renewable contract, they’re paid monthly, with bonuses, hard to work out what their actually hourly rate is. Whatever it is, it’s obviously cheaper to use casual labour hire staff.
  • Full time WorkPac employees – they are paid $44.00ph ($2.00ph less than casual WorkPac employees, but get holiday pay, sick pay etc, although they still only get super on 38.5hrs per week.
  • Casual WorkPac employees on $46.00c per hour, no benefits.

Theoretically, there is no difference in how these three groups are treated, in practice, it can be a very different story, the casual labour hire worker is second rate in terms of Rio hierarchy, as I witnessed a few weeks back.

Western Australia went into a sudden COVID-19 five day lockdown, although workers could fly back to their homes in Perth etc, workers couldn’t fly up. That meant production would grind to a halt as the outgoing crew could not be replaced.

The Superintendent addressed the crew and asked that we all stay on, saying that if anybody needed to go home, they could. We all agreed to help. Then we read a letter from somebody further up the chain in Tom Price.

Rio employees would be paid a bonus of $1,500.00 per shift for staying on, WorkPac employees would be paid their normal shift pay and contract workers would have to work it out with their employers.

What that effectively meant, is that a Rio roadtrain driver working during this period, would earn $2,052.00 per shift, while the WorkPac driver doing exactly the same job, would earn $552.00. I wrote a long email to the Superintendent saying the decision destroyed morale and that we WorkPac drivers should choose to go home, which we all agreed to. The next morning, it was announced that WorkPac drivers would also receive the bonus.

Meanwhile, back at WorkPac Head Office, they had more to worry about! They lost a court case last year, where it was ruled that people on a defined constant roster at one place, were not casuals, they are full time, even if not permanent and on that basis, WorkPac and by default, all labour hire companies, were ordered to back pay their past and present casuals workers, holiday pay, public holidays and super.

WorkPac panicked and appealed the decision with the full support of the Morrison Government, led by a crusading Christian Porter, who was very happy to be leading the charge to rape and pillage Aussie casual workers. Yes, he, Morrison and Cash etc, think casualization is a good thing and announced they were incensed that we casuals would be double dipping if we were given back pay, after all, we’re paid, so WorkPac has told the courts, a 25% loading to cover all those things! There was even a bloke from the some WA mining forum spruiking away to the Fin Review of how much we were getting paid. I asked him for a public debate, but he must have missed the message.

25%! My, oh my, oh my. It’s exciting isn’t it, so let’s have a look for that 25%.

The full time WorkPac driver next to me is getting paid $44.00 per hour (rounded up), plus holiday, sick pay and Public Holidays. Strangely, he or she is still only being paid super on 38.5hrs per week.

Me, as the casual driver, gets paid $46.00 per hour, with no holiday, sick pay, or public holidays and the same 38.5hrs super per week, although I work 84hrs. Remember the hourly rate is an averaged out rate, to take in penalties, no matter what the labour hire companies and LNP Federal Government say.

I know, like me, you’re hunting for the 25% – the difference between the full time $44.00ph and the casual $46.00ph. Yes, you’re probably a bit like the learned judges – struggling. In fact, if you add up the holiday, sick pay entitlements etc, any loading to cover that, would be somewhere between $11.00 and $15.00 approximately and would you believe that’s probably in the vicinity of what WorkPac earns from each of us per hour, in their charge rate to Rio Tinto and even then, lets say Rio pays WorkPac $60.00 per hour for each of us, it’s apparently still cheaper than employing people full time.


The case is still before the Appeal Court, however you’d have to think something may have happened / been let out of the bag, about possible results, for WorkPac, indeed most labour hire companies, have begun inserting a new clause in their contracts, stating that if in future, a court or similar decides we were / are not casuals and must be paid back pay, then they (WorkPac) reserve the right to take back from us all the loadings they’ve paid


In my case this new contract still says the flat rate is $46.00ph, but breaks it down to a never before seen, or mentioned, hourly rate of $24.00! Then gives a breakdown of everything else ($22.00) basically as loadings. Loadings should mean holiday, sick pay, public holidays, full super, it has nothing to do with the averaged out hourly rate, which is the slate of hand, smoke and mirrors trick WorkPac are trying to pull, with, may I remind you, the enthusiastic backing of the LNP government and now the One Nation mob.

Now this became so important to WorkPac, that during the second week of March, they sent us all (Australia wide as far as I can tell), a new contract that had to be signed by midnight Sunday 14th March,

And wasn’t that contract worth reading!

There is a kick – arse clause in the new contract that states, if we accept the new contract and a court later deems we are not casual drivers, (in other words we are full time) and they have to back pay us holiday pay etc, then we consent to WorkPac being able to claim back the loadings from us, potentially $22.00 for every hour you’ve worked for them, from the start of the back dated contract. You can see why it suddenly became very necessary to state that we have a very low base rate of pay ($24.00).

Yes, the new contract is back dated, in my case, five months – it’s different for each person, depending on when they started. We work a 168hr fortnight, that’s $3,696.00 per fortnight they could potentially claim back, if one agreed to the new contract. This new contract does not apply to the full time WorkPac drivers, ONLY the casuals, presumably they can’t claw anything back from full time drivers.

I tried for several days to get an answer as to what would happen if I didn’t sign. Eventually on Tuesday morning, (16th March) our Tom Price based WorkPac Pilbara representative sent me an email stating that if I didn’t sign, my employment ‘may’ be terminated, also, if I went to work on Tuesday night, it would be taken that I had accepted the new contract. I quit, followed by other guys a few hours later.

     

Another driver, wanting to stay, rang WorkPac and asked to be made full time. They refused, saying the contract was only short term. The WorkPac representative emailed three of the drivers who’d left, saying she had checked with the HR department and the clause did not apply to them. The other drivers rang me and asked what to do. I suggested they write back and say that under the circumstances, seeing as the clause didn’t apply to them, if the clause was struck out, they’d be happy to sign.

Well, that didn’t go down very well! Apparently the clause has to stay in! Of course it does!

It’s worth pointing out that the other major labour hire company has now taken a  more ethical route, albeit, it seems, in Queensland only at this point. Chandler McLeod are offering employees a fair deal, at no extra cost to the employer, which does rather tell you how much skin is in the game. One would hope that a company such as Rio, heavy on declarations of values, might approach Chandler McLeod to see if they can employ workers ethically in future.

In the meantime, the system continues to burn workers. It is wage theft and abuse of Aussie workers, whatever the industry. In my opinion, any politician who supports it does not deserve the vote of any worker. Remember pricks like Morrison, Porter, Cash, indeed any LNP member and One Nation when next you vote.
Greg Ross

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