Building workers' lives on the line
The Federal Government's blatantly anti-union legislation targeting the construction industry was the focus of a protest rally in Adelaide last week organised by the Construction Division of the CFMEU. And in NSW, building workers downed tools last Monday as part of the campaign for legislation that would allow negligent employers to be charged with manslaughter when a worker is killed on the job. Their action follows the death of 16-year-old Joel Exner on a building site in western Sydney on October 15. South Australia South Australian CFMEU State Secretary Martin O'Malley warned that the Howard Government's proposed legislation goes the heart of the ability of workers to organise in defence of their rights and conditions. "The legislation seeks to undermine workers, by weakening the very union that protects their rights and entitlements from unscrupulous bosses and the equally unscrupulous government." The proposed legislation would clamp down on action by workers when faced with unsafe conditions by banning walkouts in favour of a ballot process. It also wants to set up an industry tribunal to deal with disputes, and effectively try to cut unions out of the process. Such a move would leave workers vulnerable to the whims of employers. "Just as the Cole Royal Commission into the building industry was nothing more than a political witch-hunt, this legislation is a clear attempt to impose unfair and dracon-ian laws for political reasons." Mr O'Malley said the planned laws will put workers' lives on the line in the notoriously dangerous construction industry. The shocking reality is that on average, one building worker is killed each week in Australia. And that's just the reported statistics. How many go unreported? National Occupational Health and Safety Commission figures show one in every 10,000 construction workers will die on the job. Comparing the risks with other industries, around 20 percent of all workplace injuries happen on building sites. The Commission estimates the annual cost of building industry deaths and injuries is $20 billion. "Yet what is the Federal Government's response?", asked Mr O'Malley. "Not to toughen standards, but to try to weaken the very organisation that puts worker safety first — the union." "The CFMEU doesn't simply talk about safer worksites, it acts. If a site is unsafe, members walk off the job. Immediately. No delays. No ifs, no buts. It takes direct action to keep workers safe." "This is legislation which is aimed directly at undermining unions. What it will actually lead to is worsening safety standards. More than four times as many working days are lost as a result of workplace injury than are lost through industrial action — many of them you can bet are associated with safety issues! "Weaker unions mean weaker safety. We won't stand for it, but will protest against it." Wollongong Around 1500 construction workers rallied at the Wollongong Mall Ampithreatre. Speakers at the rally focused much of their addresses on the need to protect workers from situations like that of Joel Exner and Dean McGoldrick who died in similar circumstances. Mark Paloff from the South Coast Labour Council said that workers had a right to expect to go home to their families at the end of the day. Greens Member for Cunningham Michael Organ addressed the crowd on his draft Industrial Manslaughter Bill that he is presenting to Federal Parliament in the next couple of weeks. "In Australia 2200 people die from work related accidents a year. More people die on work sites than in car accidents", Mr Organ said. The Bill will call for tough penalties of up to 25 years jail with fines of up to $50 million for negligent employers. Former ACTU President Jennie George highlighted how Occupational Health and Safety had become deregulated over the years by both Federal and State Governments. She also talked about how the government spent millions of dollars on the Royal Commission into the Building Industry. "It was a phoney witch hunt against the union movement while two workers died without one employer appearing before the Commission to account for the Occupational Health and Safety breaches that caused these deaths", Ms George said. NSW Assistant Secretary of the CFMEU Peter Zaboyak talked about sitting in the Royal Commission every day and no one person was allowed to talk about a safety issue during the proceedings. He highlighted the case of Dean McGoldrick who died scamping across a roof the company without a safety harness during the Commission hearings. His employer was only fined $20,00 dollars. "Dean's Company went into receivership directly after the fine and didn't pay." The rally in Wollongong passed a unanimous resolution to continue to pressure both the Howard and Carr Governments to bring in immediate Industrial Manslaughter legislation to prevent further deaths. Sydney The action in South Australia came as unions in NSW marked the death of 16-year-old Joel Exner. Public transport in Sydney came to a standstill last Wednesday as transport workers observed one minute's silence. Ferries on Sydney Harbour and city buses and trains joined in the silence in Honour of Joel, who was only three days into his new job as a roof plumber at Australand when he fell 15 metres to his death. His employer provided no safety harness for Joel or his workmates, despite the union and the safety committee repeatedly calling for the harnesses to be provided. The minute's silence was also in honour of the thousands of Australian workers who die each year due to employer negligence and in support of the union campaign for the introduction of industrial manslaughter laws. "We support the CFMEU in their fight to get rogue operators responsible for work deaths put behind bars", said Maritime Union of Australia acting branch Secretary, Glen Wood. "The death of young Joel is not just a tragedy, it's a crime."