Appin miners’ undie protest goes South

It’s hard to believe how a 10-minute undie protest by Appin miners has escalated.

CFMEU members Lee Webb (left) and Dave McLachlan, who lost his job over the Appin undie protest in March this year. Picture: Robert Peet

CFMEU members Lee Webb (left) and Dave McLachlan, who lost his job over the Appin undie protest in March this year. Picture: Robert Peet

On the morning of March 7, miners turned up to start their shift in their jocks.

The light-hearted protest had a serious side, the CFMEU members wanting to protest an eight-month delay from owner South32 in supplying a promised laundering service.

After 10 minutes, during which time a manager on site seemed to be so unflustered by the protest that he presented an award to a miner who was in his jocks, they got changed and went to work.

In a statement to the media on the day, a South32 spokesman made no mention of any concerns about the undie-wearing or the legality of the strike.

But that was before the Mercury and other Wollongong news outlets ran images of the protest.

After that happened South32 said it was unprotected industrial action (which it probably was) and that miners were “inappropriately dressed” for work.

And so the company disciplined at least three miners for taking photos and videos during the protest and ultimately sacked lodge president Dave McLachlan.

It was a response that shocked a lot of people and seemed out of proportion to the miners’ actions.

Sacking someone and placing their family future in limbo because you didn’t like a few photos seems extreme.

It was also a response that seemed fundamentally unfair given it was South32’s eight-month delay in setting up that laundering service that started the ball rolling.

The response from South32 seems seems entirely counter-productive – it’s a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

It’s led to a national campaign to reinstate the miner, with stories appearing in the nation’s newspapers and websites about it.

And what do they use to illustrate these stories? Pictures of the undie protest.

South32’s apparent dislike of those photos appearing in the media and its resulting actions have actually led to even more people seeing those photos.

Seems a strange approach to take.

South32 perhaps would have been better served by acknowledging their own eight-month delay and maybe having a few quiet words to a few people.

Instead, the issue escalated – and it’s hard to imagine there are too many people taking South32’s side.

The story Appin miners’ undie protest goes South first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.

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