The Guardian • Issue #2091

Workers’ lives at risk over asbestos secrecy

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2091
Wittenoom Gorge Mine

Wittenoom Gorge Mine – 1962. The mine in operation. The asbestos dust from the “bagging” room often cast a blue haze over the area. Breathing that dust was deadly for those that lived and worked there. Photo: Philip Schubert – (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Unions have urged energy giant Esso to come clean on its plans to safely remove deadly asbestos from retired oil and gas platforms in the Bass Strait.

The Building Industry Group of Unions (BIG), which includes the CFMEU, AMWU, PPTEU and ETU (Construction, manufacturing, plumbing, and electrical unions), is fighting for the full decommissioning of all platforms and associated equipment.

Esso has refused to detail asbestos removal plans for the rigs, which contain high levels of the deadly material.

Esso, which is due to start decommissioning up to 12 Bass Strait platforms from 2027, also refused to provide unions with the contractors shortlisted to deal with the asbestos.

The company said it would only provide the list after the contract had been awarded.

Separately, All Seas – a company with a track record of attempting to bring in foreign labour to work on Australian ships – has been awarded the contract for the heavy lift component of the decommissioning.

CFMEU National Secretary Christy Cain said unions would not settle for anything less than the highest safety standards and full remediation of the seabed.

“We have had enough deaths due to asbestos and related diseases over the years and we as a union will do everything we possibly can to ensure this project is safe for not just our workforce, but all workers,” he said.

“Every year 4,000 people die of asbestos-related diseases. We will have zero tolerance for any employer including Esso and All Seas that wants to cut corners on these jobs.

“This mob should be held to account on their lack of transparency, and should work with the union to ensure the safety of workers on the job is paramount.

“Esso is failing its obligation to be open and transparent about the process, which is appalling given these platforms are full of asbestos.

“The company must urgently provide detailed information about the asbestos removal including where it’s located and how much there is so we don’t risk workers dying from horrific diseases.

“We need absolute confidence the asbestos removal contractor is a reputable operator with the highest safety standards.”

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