The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union has put major mining companies on notice as it fights against the use of urine tests for the detection of drugs and alcohol.
The AMWU says it is planning court challenges against miners who use urine tests to detect substances such as cannabis, cocaine, and heroin in their workers.
It claims the method is too intrusive and says urine tests are unfair because it can detect drug use from days earlier, rather than more recent use that could lead to impairment at work.
AMWU secretary Steve McCartney said union members preferred saliva testing, The West Australian reported.
"We will be taking them all on because we owe it to our membership," he said.
"You can tell Rio Tinto, Woodside and BHP (Billiton) that they can be expecting to hear from us."
The move comes after a recent ruling by the Fair Work Commission banned the use of urine tests for the detection of drugs and alcohol for workers at the NSW Government-owned electricity network company Endeavour Energy.
The commission labelled the use of urine tests “unjust and unreasonable” and ordered the company to conduct testing for substances via saliva instead.
It is believed the AMWU will use the precedent of this case in its fight.
However the Association of Mines and Metals executive director of policy, Scott Barklamb, fears a move to saliva testing could undermine safety on mine sites.
Barklamb said the Fair Work Commission should not have the right to take decisions about drug testing away from management.
"AMMA strongly believes that the only suitable people to be making decisions about which drug and alcohol testing method is best suited to maintaining a safe workplace are the people directly involved in running those workplaces," he said.
"It is not the expertise or role of an employment tribunal, or an employer association, or a union boss to make critically important operational decisions regarding the safety of someone else's employees."
An opinion piece about the role of drug testing on mine sites was met with mixed reactions by Australian Mining readers.
Some say urine testing is unfair because it can detect small amounts of substances that are no longer having an effect on the user.
“I would be pissed off if they could sack me for being drunk 3 days ago,” one reader said.
“I don't really care about what people do in their own time. If they're not affected when they turn up to work, that's all that matters to me. I don't condone drug use or excessive alcohol consumption, but I also don't think that your employer should have a say in your activities outside of work,” another stated.
However others were not so forgiving, stating that even a small amount of residual drugs in a person’s system had the potential to cause impairments at work.
“Do what you want on your time, but drugs last in your system for a reason, and the impairment can last a while.” One Facebook commentator said.
“Instant dismissal no verbal warning no written warnings on ya bike my livelihood & safety far outweighs some drugged up lunatic,” another argued.