Unions warn on Right to Information laws

ANY mine industry worker anonymously passing on concerns to mine safety workers could have their details read by bosses using Queensland Right to Information laws.

The laws - created to encourage transparency in government - can be used by mining companies to access anything fed into the state government system.

Names are deleted, but the coal mining union warned specific times, dates, and whereabouts of the issue could pinpoint who was making the complaint.

Many of these concerns were raised with the company directly, but if a worker felt unsure about their job security - sometimes an issue for a contractor or temporary worker - they could find themselves unwillingly identified.

Queensland is considered to have the safest mining industry in the world, but a death at a quarry site near Moranbah has prompted scrutiny to ensure mine and quarry safety was kept strong.

University of Queensland mine safety expert Professor David Cliff said anonymous reporting was never ideal but was something "that needs to be protected undoubtedly".

He said workers should always report incidents directly to the company if they could, so they can be aware of them and take action.

But if reporting in-confidence was necessary, he said it needed to be preserved.

"If it was perceived by the worker that anonymity would be penalised or cause a negative impact on them, making a comment in confidence to any person would become less likely," Prof Cliff said.

"If they make a comment to the (union safety representative) and that goes to a mines inspector, it means they might not tell the representative either."

Prof Cliff said RTI was needed to ensure the government was not hiding things, but there needed to be flexibility, "not to protect the public servant but to protect information".

The Department of Mines recently revealed it was planning to release a conversation between a union safety representative and mine safety inspectors to BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance as a result of the company's RTI request.

The representative believed these discussions were confidential and the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union was planning to fight for it to remain private.

Each state government department has its own RTI section that acts independently and without input from the government.

A spokesman for Department of Mines said the RTI legislation was designed to release information unless it was in breach of the public interest.

"The delegated RTI officer will then make an independent decision regarding access to the subject documents based upon the public interest considerations," he said.

Topics:  mining industry

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