Reconsider undie protest sacking, Labor MPs tell South32

CFMEU members Lee Webb (left) and Dave McLachlan. Mr McLachlan lost his job following a recent workplace protest. Picture: Robert Peet

CFMEU members Lee Webb (left) and Dave McLachlan. Mr McLachlan lost his job following a recent workplace protest. Picture: Robert Peet

Two Illawarra Labor MPs have urged South32 management to reconsider the sacking of an Appin miner who instigated a pants-off protest over working conditions, saying the decision was a “huge overreaction” and “out of step with community expectations”.

CFMEU Appin Colliery lodge president Dave McLachlan’s employment was terminated on Wednesday, six weeks after the 10-minute undies protest.

Appin miners briefly wore their underwear 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.

Cunningham MP Sharon Bird and the Member for Whitlam, Stephen Jones, say the protest was “a humorous and novel way of communicating a message”.

In a letter to South32’s Illawarra Metallurgical Coal vice president of operations, Michael Thew, the Labor MPs said they had been advised Mr McLachlan’s action was “a genuine call to highlight deficiencies at the mine”.

“In particular, lengthy delays by South32 in ensuring the working conditions of employees for the supply of work clothes and laundry services as provided in the Collective Agreement,” the MPs’ letter said. 

“We are also advised that the protest action was held during a previously planned meeting, did not disrupt the work of the Appin mine and did not breach any workplace safety rules as the meeting was held on the surface.”

The MPs said they understood there were “serious underlying issues”, but the “overwhelming view is that it was a humorous and novel way of communicating a message”.

“From a community perspective, the dismissal of Dave McLachlan is seen as huge overreaction by South32 and is out of step with community expectations,” they said.

Mr McLachlan spoke to the Mercury immediately after he learned his fate at a meeting with South32 on Wednesday. He was “extremely disappointed” to be sacked over “what started out as a light-hearted protest”.

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.”

The company said a laundering contract would start this month and workers had been paid compensation for the delay.

Mr McLachlan has vowed to fight his dismissal in court.

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