The Guardian • Issue #2092


One man dead

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2092

“One man dead, another fighting for life.” That’s all the headlines said on Wednesday 13 March 2024. By the time you read this, the media will have moved on to other topics. The family of Kurt Hourigan, the man who died, will take a lot longer to move on.

Hourigan died in a Ballarat gold mine accident while ‘air legging,’ basically two miners drilling on unsupported ground, a practice that the Australian Workers Union says should not be used for this kind of work. The union has raised concerns about safety before. Now they’re asking why, 169 deaths after the laws were introduced in 2020, nobody has been prosecuted under Victoria’s industrial manslaughter laws. That’s a fair question. A law that never operates is a dead letter law, and might as well not exist.

Kurt Hourigan is not alone. Seven miners died last year, and two have died so far in 2024.  195 workers died in Australia in 2022. That’s 195 too many. Every year on April 28, we mark International Workers Memorial Day to commemorate these deaths. We commemorate the lives lost and we vow to take action to save lives still in danger at work. Everybody deserves to come home from work alive.

Naturally Victory Minerals, the company that employed Hourigan says that the safety of workers is its “first priority.” They have only recently reintroduced air legging, despite most modern operations banning it for safety reasons. An investigation is underway and the workplace manslaughter laws might be used. Australia has a patchwork of workplace manslaughter laws.  Disgracefully, Tasmania and NSW have none, although NSW has started work on one.

It would be good if governments took workers lives so seriously that they had workplace manslaughter laws, and used them. It would be even better if a safety culture meant that there were no workplace deaths in the first place.

The fundamental reason why people die and are maimed at work is capitalism. Workers are seen as a means to an end, like machinery or buildings. Of course there are jobs where the employers and workers get along, but that’s just a bump on the road for capitalism. Workers like Kurt Hourigan are an expense, an obstacle to profit. The safety and health of workers isn’t what Victory Minerals or any large company is about. What companies are about is simple – a good return on investment. That’s why so many workers don’t come home alive every year. It’s the reason why so many come home injured.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Capitalism feels inevitable, because we’re in the middle of it, but there is an alternative. The alternative is socialism We could all have jobs where workers, their safety and their welfare are what the job is about. 

Unions work to keep members safe and well. We support them and we support industrial manslaughter laws that make a difference. More than that, the Communist Party of Australia is working for a society where the worker is what the job is about, and everybody comes home from work healthy. For that, we’ll have to change a lot more than the laws.

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