'Pretty sh---y Christmas': Derailed train driver sues BHP over sacking
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'Pretty sh---y Christmas': Derailed train driver sues BHP over sacking

BHP faces an unfair dismissal fight after it sacked the driver of an iron ore train that was forcibly derailed last year after a near-100 kilometre dash with no one at the controls.

The train, nearly three kilometres in length, was en route to Port Hedland in early November, but set off unattended after its driver had left the cabin for a safety inspection, BHP said at the time.

BHP had to forcibly derail the train.

BHP had to forcibly derail the train. Credit:Imgur

Officials at BHP's remote control centre in Perth took the decision to force the driverless train, travelling at high speed, off its tracks.

Nobody was injured in the incident, which took place in a remote area about 120 kilometres south of the world's largest iron ore loading terminal.

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The driver's lawyer, Turner Freeman industrial employment lawyer Tim Kucera, said the 63-year-old driver was told he was dismissed on December 18 and had his appeal against the decision rejected by the company on December 28.

"This bloke has had a pretty shitty Christmas, I can assure you," he said.

It is a classic case of 'have an accident, blame the worker not the system'.

Lawyer TIm Kucera

Mr Kucera declined to outline the basis of the man's claim for unfair dismissal but said the company needed to take its share of the blame for the accident.

"It is a classic case of 'have an accident, blame the worker not the system'," he said.

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"Essentially what we will be saying is that the decision to dismiss was unfair for a raft of reasons not least of which was blaming the worker for the accident when there were significant issues with the systems, [over which he had no control]."

Mr Kucera said the issues raised would be important given the rise of automation in the workplace.

He said the fly-in-fly-out driver from South Australia still needed to work.

"He is an experienced train driver, the problem is that because of the way this has all transpired it makes it pretty hard for him to pick up a job somewhere else," Mr Kucera said.

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BHP declined to confirm the circumstances of the driver's departure.

"The driver is no longer employed by the company. Out of respect for the individual and their privacy we are unable to provide further information," a BHP spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

While BHP said that it expected some interruption to its iron ore exports after the derailment, which forced the suspension of its rail operations, CEO Andrew Mackenzie said in November that the miner would meet its commitments to customers.

Australia's Transport Safety Bureau launched a probe into the incident and is expected to release a report in the second quarter of 2019.

with Reuters

Mathew Dunckley is business editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Based in our Melbourne newsroom, Mathew has almost 20 years experience as a journalist and editor.

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