Appin Colliery miner sacked for undies protest

Appin miners at the now-controversial undie protest in early March. Inset: Dave McLachlan
Appin miners at the now-controversial undie protest in early March. Inset: Dave McLachlan

The Appin miner and union leader who instigated a controversial pants-off protest over miners’ work clothes and a laundry service has been sacked.

The CFMEU’s Appin Colliery lodge president Dave McLachlan learned his fate at a meeting between his employer, South32, and the union on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr McLachlan had his employment terminated, effective immediately. 

The dismissal came after miners at Appin wore their jocks for 10 minutes on March 7, to highlight issues with South32’s supply of work clothes and a delay of more than a year in providing a promised laundry service.

Mr McLachlan was stood down for three weeks after the protest and later asked to “show cause” why he shouldn’t have his employment terminated.

The 48-year-old told the Mercury he was “extremely disappointed” to be sacked over “what started out as a light-hearted protest”.

CFMEU members Lee Webb and Dave McLachlan on Wednesday. Picture: ROBERT PEET

CFMEU members Lee Webb and Dave McLachlan on Wednesday. Picture: ROBERT PEET

“There was no impact on the running of the business and to lose my job because of it I just find incredible,” he said.

The union leader said the protest did not disrupt the cutting of coal at the Appin Colliery because the miners had stayed on the surface for a pre-planned meeting.

“I deliberately nominated that day [for the protest] because of that [meeting],” he said.

Mr McLachlan vowed to fight his dismissal.

“We’ll run a case through the courts for unfair dismissal … I want my job back,” he said. 

“I don’t believe that termination was justified for what happened, I just believe it's a huge over-reaction.” 

CFMEU south-west district secretary Lee Webb also expressed frustration at South32’s decision. 

“The company are saying Dave broke the code of conduct for South32. They don’t believe that the protest was appropriate, they say it was against the Fair Work Act,” Mr Webb said.

“They say that the photos that ended up in the media were inappropriate and not a good thing for the company.

“There's a number of things that the company are saying in relation to this incident and they’ve lost trust in Dave, they can’t see him being back employed with South32 because of those things … so Dave finds himself without a job.”

Mr Webb said South32’s investigation concluded the images of miners in their underwear “somehow got to the media”.

“I don’t know whether that’s actually been determined, who actually did that,” he said of the images being leaked. 

Sixteen CFMEU members were cautioned over the protest, Mr Webb said, with 12 miners sent back to work with a note on their file and four stood down with pay.

Three of the stood-down miners have since returned to work with a “final warning” on their files, he said, and Mr McLachlan received a termination letter.      

Mr Webb said the company could have handled the matter “a whole lot better”.

“They could have taken it on the chin as we have with a number of other guys and moved forward, but they’ve decided to terminate Dave’s employment, which is really sad,” he said. 

When asked about Mr McLachlan’s termination, a South32 spokeswoman said: “We do not share details on individual employee terminations and it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

As for the laundry service, a South32 spokesman told the Mercury earlier this month that “a laundering contract has now been finalised and will commence during this month”.

“South32 has paid employees compensation for the delay,” the spokesman said at the time.