CFMEU: 'Withhold safety complaint'
THE Queensland Government plans to release a confidential conversation between safety inspectors to mining giant BHP Billiton, in a move that risks discouraging workers from reporting safety concerns.
APN has viewed correspondence between the Department of Mines and the union inspector, telling him it would release the private conversation after receiving a Right to Information request.
A union industry safety and health representative was interviewed by the department's principal investigator and the chief inspector of coal mines on March 15, 2010.
It related to a complaint from BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance about orders given by a colleague.
On June 4, the government sent a letter to say an 11-page interview transcript would be released unless he objected.
Department of Mines replied it was not convinced the interview was confidential.
The document has "In Confidence" written in bold on its title page, with "Released Under RTI" above it.
The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union is now seeking legal advice.
CFMEU district vice president Stephen Smyth said workers needed to know safety complaints and discussions would be kept confidential.
"Anything that's done between a union safety representative and the mines department is done in a way to protect themselves and other coal miners," Mr Smyth said.
"That protection should be there for miners to raise things and do it without the fear of reprisal.
"This would drive safety underground - it can have a detrimental effect on safety generally."
By law, all workers are bound to report any safety concerns to management, but Mr Smyth said contract workers were sometimes reluctant because they did not want to risk their jobs.
Even with Queensland's exemplary mine safety record, 11 workers have been killed on coal mine sites since 2000 in an industry employing tens of thousands.
University of Queensland mine safety expert Professor David Cliff said because the inspector was not employed by a mine, it may not be a clear-cut breach of worker confidence.
But he said if this private interview was released, it "cut to the heart of being able to make a complaint anonymously for fear of retribution".
"(They are) not just a union delegate, they have the same power as a government mines inspector," Prof Cliff said.
"(Workers) may be much more wary of confidential discussions with inspectors if they are now on the record."
A Department of Mines spokesman said the matter was under appeal, had not been released but the ultimate decision rested on the RTI officer.
Once all sides are consulted, the officer will decide whether to release the interview "based on the public interest considerations".
He said the goal was to release any information held by the government unless it posed a threat to the public interest.
BMA declined to comment.