Double duty for the CFMEU
Fixing things is a motivating force for union leader Mitch Hughes.
Mr Hughes was elected senior vice-president of the CFMEU Queensland district mining and energy division in 2012 at age 28 and, in addition to those duties, has been acting in the role of state secretary for the past year.
His union position means the qualified diesel fitter no longer gets to work with his hands as much as he would like.
But he says he enjoys the chance to apply strategy and fix members’ problems when they come to the CFMEU for help.More
Mr Hughes grew up in Dysart in central Queensland, where his father worked at the Norwich Park and Peak Downs coal mines.
But he was not specifically drawn to mining himself – beginning a mechanical apprenticeship with a business in Dysart when he first left school.
“I just wanted to do something with my hands,” Mr Hughes said.
“I was probably about three-quarters of the way through my first year when myself and a couple of guys rocked up to work one morning to find the place locked up and the boss had shot through.
“In terms of timing, the mines had just started to call for apprentices and I was lucky enough to be accepted as a diesel fitter apprentice at Saraji mine.”
He finished his apprenticeship in early 2007 and worked for a local contractor in Dysart for a year before winning a permanent position back at Saraji.
Mr Hughes worked there for BHP until he was elected into the CFMEU senior vice-president role in 2012.
Multiple factors had contributed to his interest in the work of the union, he said.
“There was a significant dispute when I was in primary school. Dad and the other miners were all on strike for weeks. That was probably my first exposure to it,” he said.
“Then, when the mechanic I was working for in Dysart shot through owing me some super, I started to dig around about what I could do.
“When I got to Saraji, we were probably a couple of years from our next dispute where it turns out I went on strike.
“It was probably a combination of all those things that led me down the path I’m on now.”
A key part of his role now involved improving conditions for labour hire members, Mr Hughes said.
“Whenever our guys and girls come across an issue I like to be involved in the strategy and find the most efficient way for us to win the argument and make sure they get their entitlements and their rights are protected at work,” he said.
Job security was among the biggest issues facing the mining industry workforce at the moment, along with the health risks associated with dust exposure, he said.
He is keen to remain in a union leadership role to help resolve some of the challenges.
“I want to stay involved. I’m not going to be happy until I see some things through,” Mr Hughes said.
“Job security and labour hire – that’s a project of mine, to make sure we get it right and people get some decent conditions.”
And the best part of the job?
“It’s the people to be honest,” Mr Hughes said.
“I know that sounds a bit cliché, but we have some great members out there.
“We do meet some great people and I think probably the best thing is if someone comes to you with an issue and you have a win for them.
“We’ve had some good wins in the last couple of months for our guys and girls.”
Based in Brisbane, his interests outside work have a major slant towards sport.
“I grew up playing AFL in Dysart, Mr Hughes said. “I was a black sheep of the family – my brother played rugby league, my dad followed rugby league, so playing AFL in the middle of central Queensland was unusual.
“But we had four teams, I think – Moranbah, Dysart Blackwater and Emerald.”
Mr Hughes said his other sporting love was soccer.
“I still play soccer, but I’m starting to get to that age where my body hurts too much the next day if I play AFL,” he said.
“Aside from sports- it’s cars. Old Mustangs and stuff like that.
“I’m looking for one to buy at the moment, you know, diesel fitter by trade and worked with my hands for that long – having a bit more of a desk job, my hands get a bit twitchy now and then, so I’m looking for things to fix.”Less