A MAJOR coal mining employer is facing a significant battle before the Fair Work Commission after a ruling deemed it acceptable for a union to lodge a single unfair dismissal application covering 60 former employees.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) won approval from a single judge of the Fair Work Commission to challenge the dismissal of 60 individual employees from Anglo Coal’s Dawson mine in Queensland.

The CFMEU lodged the application on grounds that the group of workers had been dismissed because they had a workplace right to the benefit of the Dawson Mines Collective Enterprise Agreement 2010 and the National Employment Standards.

In its original application, the CFMEU had included 86 former employees, but later cut the number by 26 after Anglo Coal objected on grounds that 21 had accepted voluntary redundancy, four were still employed, and one held no record of employment.

The employer further challenged the application by way of jurisdictional objection, stating that s.365 of the Fair Work Act 2009 did not permit unfair dismissal applications covering more than one worker due to the uniqueness of each instance.

Deputy President Asbury, however, rejected the employer’s argument, stating ‘the provision neither expressly allows nor expressly prohibits a single application covering more than one person’.

“There is no reason why a single application cannot encompass multiple disputes, particularly when there is a common denominator – as there is in the present case – whereby each of the persons in dispute was employed by the same employer,” DP Ashbury said.

In providing some relief to the administrative weight of the union’s application, DP Asbury acknowledged that ‘there are logistical difficulties associated for Anglo Coal in responding to the dispute’.

“It would be open to Anglo Coal to request more and better particulars in relation to the application before participating in a Conference,” she said.

“It is also probable that the issues identified by Anglo Coal will be clarified in the course of a conference in relation to the application.”

The Deputy President dismissed the jurisdictional objection and ordered both parties to engage in a conciliation conference.

To read the decision in full, click here.

Implications for Employers

The recent ruling from the Fair Work Commission is a concerning precedent for resource employers, particularly as organisational restructures in some parts of the industry continue to be necessary to streamline business operations.

Though already struggling with difficult business dynamics, resource employers may now also be at risk of disputation covering a potentially unlimited number of workers challenging redundancies in a single application.

It stands to reason that a conciliation conference may ease the cost and time pressures associated with disputation affecting 60 former employees, as in Anglo Coal’s case. However, if the matter is not resolved, the circumstances of the case will no doubt prove difficult to navigate.

As in any sensitive instances involving employee dismissal or redundancy, it is pertinent to seek legal advice and information from your workplace relations experts at AMMA. To speak to one of our consultants, contact your local AMMA office.