Rio Tinto has been ordered to pay a former coal miner more than a million dollars in damages after illegally standing him down.
Former Hail Creek coal miner Michael Haylett was awarded $1.272 million in damages and compensation, and $24,600 in interest payments by the courts, an amount termed “nearly unprecedented in workplace disputes” by the CFMEU.
This sum is on top of the $50,000 fine Rio Tinto received earlier this week over the incident.
Haylett was originally injured in bulldozer accident in 2009, which caused a spinal injury.
In 2014 Haylett was awarded $626,280 in damagesfor these injuries sustained while operating the bulldozer.
Rio Tinto had formerly admitted fault for the injuries, which necessitated spinal surgery, and retrained Haylett for duties as a drill rig operator, a position he operated in for three years.
However, Rio Tinto then stood down Haylett after he was awarded compensation in 2014, asserting that he didn’t hold a valid health assessment.
Haylett retained his position in August 2014 after challenging Rio Tinto in the Supreme Court, but a year later Rio Tinto requested a second health assessment.
The judge at the time said Hail Creek had “prevailed upon” a doctor to change his medical assessment of Haylett to state he was unfit for work – despite it stating he was fit subject to restrictions, when they were dissatisfied with the outcome of his examination.
Based on the revised assessment, Hail Creek stood down Haylett without wages in September 2014, an act which saw Haylett take Rio Tinto to court.
Earlier this week a federal judge handed down the $50,000 penalty against Rio Tinto for breaching the Fair Work Act, with the CFMEU stating the company has been ‘victimising’ the miner.
Justice John Reeves described the attempt to influence the assessing doctor as “disgraceful”, and said the case had a remarkable history which was characterised by the resilience of Haylett and “recalcitrance” of Rio Tinto.
“It’s not something that the employer can use to dispose of workers because they’re suffering from a disability,” Justice Reeves said of the health assessment scheme.
“It’s a process that requires assessment in the interests of the worker every five years to ensure that they’re not being affected by working in a coal mine.”
CFMEU mining and energy division district president Steve Smyth has welcomed the new judgement, calling the case a ‘David and Goliath battle’ against Rio.
“Michael Haylett, Hall Payne Lawyers, and the union have been fighting this case for three years, and Michael is finally getting justice against one of the world’s biggest mining companies for his unfair sacking,” Smyth said.
“Rio Tinto has been running a vendetta against Michael Haylett for years, and the way the company acted in this matter – beginning with the heavy-handed and illegal sacking of a worker, to ignoring a Supreme Court order – is appalling and the penalty of $50,000 against them is deserved.
Now Rio Tinto has been hit with $1.3 million in compensation payments to Haylett as well.
“While the payment of $1.3 million in damages and back pay will go some way to compensating Mr Haylett for the pain, suffering, and poor treatment he’s endured over the years, it shouldn’t have to be necessary,” Smyth said.
He went on to state: “The Federal Court found that Rio Tinto’s decision to stand down Mr Haylett was done in retaliation for him winning his damages claim, and was in breach of the Fair Work Act. Justice Reeves highlighted the lack of remorse that the company had for their actions as a major factor in his decision.”