WMWA takes action on BHP policy which invades employees’ privacy

The Western Mine Workers Alliance has written to BHP voicing outrage over a draconian new policy that allows the company to search FIFO workers’ personal belongings at the whim of managers, pointing out it opens avenues for widespread harassment on site.

The new policy, contained in the updated “BHP Village Rules” states that: “BHP, Village Management, Security or delegates may conduct searches of Village rooms, resident belongings or vehicles for all BHP employees and contractors on a random basis”.

BHP has threatened to withhold accommodation if workers do not sign up to this invasion of their rights.

The WMWA is a partnership between the Australian Workers’ Union and the Mining and Energy Union and represents thousands of WA mine workers.

AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton says the union is demanding answers from BHP.

“It’s bad enough that men’s personal belongings will be searched but, given the horror stories coming out of the sector about harassment, especially of women, this is the last policy BHP or any other employer should be introducing,” Mr Walton said.

“These arbitrary search powers constitute an extraordinary invasion of privacy and give rise to an immediate concern about the manner they will be used and the uses to which they will be put.

“Our union is recommending that our members do not give their express consent to BHP over this policy. We agree BHP has the right to search its own property, but not workers’ personal belongings.

“And we recognise the pressure workers – especially casual contract workers – are under to sign away their rights when the boss stands over them, but that’s why we are fighting back as a union and demanding better.”

Greg Busson, Secretary, WA Division of the Mining & Energy Union, says the new policy is wide open to abuse.

“This appears to be a blank cheque to any petty manager with a vendetta to bully and harass a worker they don’t like,” Mr Busson says.

“There are absolutely zero restrictions on how or why these searches can take place. BHP reckons it should be an any time, any reason sort of affair.

“I wonder how the office workers in capital cities would like it if their bosses just decided one day they could rummage around in their backpacks or handbags?

“This drastic new rule was slipped in sneakily by BHP with the hope, presumably, that no one would notice and would just sign. So far we are aware of no protections about how searches of personal belongings are undertaken, including who is present or training on how appropriate searches can be conducted.”

In its letter to the BHP’s Iron Ore and Nickel West, the WMWA demands answers to key questions including:

  • On what basis does BHP believe that the random searches are lawful?
  • Who will do them and what training will they receive?
  • How will the searches be conducted, and will there be more than one person present when conducting each search?
  • Will the owner of the personal belongings be present, or informed, and if so when?
  • Will belongings be removed?
  • What process is undertaken and what level of managerial approval is given before approval of a search?
  • What records will be kept in relation to the searches?

The letter notes that going through personal items unaccompanied provides an opportunity for theft and even evidence planting.

“The rules also state that personal belongings are the sole responsibility of the employee and the company will not be held responsible for any damage or theft. How can this be reconcilable?”

The letter also demands to know:

  • Will searches be used for disciplinary reasons?
  • What is to stop searches being used or threatened informally as an illegitimate power over employees?
  • What will the mental health impacts be of the searches and the threat of searches?
  • Given the search would extend to clothing, toiletries, medicines and other similar effects, how or why is such an extraordinary breach of privacy warranted.

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