||Issue No. 147||09 August 2002|
A Call to Action
Interview: Save Our Souls
Unions: Rats With Wings
Bad Boss: If The Boot Fits
History: Political Bower Birds
International: No More Business as Usual
Corporate: The Seven Deadly Sins of Capitalism
Review: Prepare To Bend
Satire: Bush Boosts Sharemarket Confidence: Shares his Cocaine Stash
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Rats With Wings
Pigeons are the only things moving on the eastern end of Westfield's $320 million shopping centre redevelopment at Bondi Junction. Even they pick their spots on the giant concrete floors and exposed steel reinforcing rods, and their caution is well advised.
At least three serious incidents on the Adelaide St end of the redevelopment have the CFMEU and Labor Council demanding a joint Workcover-union construction industry safety blitz.
Since workers went onto that part of the site a giant underground steel pin has been driven through a power cable, cutting electricity to Bondi and putting at least one commercial radio station off the air; a concrete slab, roughly 20m by 20m, has broken off and tumbled nearly two metres to the deck; then, on July 31, demolition labourer Willie Tawhai fell four floors when the concrete roof he was working on broke away.
Tawhai was admitted to St Vincent's Hospital with a broken arm, severe bruising and lacerations. Not bad, considering.
Visitors said he told them he thought his number was up.
One moment he was standing on the roof, hosing down the surface to keep the dust from nearby shoppers. Next thing, he was falling. Tawhai opened his eyes, thinking he was dreaming, until seeing workers from the adjacent Westfield site clambering towards him.
He had landed, fortuitously, between two concrete slabs, having avoided a mass of sharp, steel reinforcing rods on the way down.
The figures he saw were not angels but trained first aiders, Steve Hollis and Steve Healey, who had been working just outside the demolition zone.
Hard-bitten Westfield CFMEU site delegate, Bill Docherty, labels their efforts "heroic".
"When we got there Willie was lying in the rubble. Our blokes didn't think about themselves, they just went in to help. I believe, in all honesty, what they did was ridiculous but commendable, and I've told them that.
"They took a risk. We are all conscious of health and safety but, in emergencies, you find most construction workers will do what they think is right. That means helping someone in trouble."
Healey was first across with an oxygen bottle. Hollis was right behind him and Docherty arrived from the main site with the first aid kit.
It's important to understand that the demolition site isn't, technically, Westfield's responsibility. They've handed it over to demolishers, RJ Brady, until the demolition is completed.
Bob Brady is president of the Demolition Association and he wants greater regulatory oversight before he puts other employees at risk.
Brady is backing Labor Council moves to have the demolition division of Workcover reinstated. Equally important, he says, it should be a condition of Development Applications that builders register design specification for posterity.
"Honestly, you come onto some sites blind," he said. "You try and get the specifications off councils and they say they've been lost.
"What demolishers need is access to the as-built drawings so that when our grandchildren are tearing these places down they know the design philosophy
"They shouldn't get a completion certificate until that information is filed."
Back in the 70s, when this shopping centre was going up, the principal builder went bust. Different firms completed different sections and, with the fa�ade ripped away, their shortcuts have been exposed.
There is no reinforcement around some of the columns. Most of the concrete in the central columns is white, a sure sign that it doesn't include a hell of a lot of cement.
Looking at the exposed concrete floors is intriguing. On the Oxford St end they are thick with steel reinforcing but just 50m back there is barely any support at all.
CFMEU organiser Martin Wyer has seen it all before.
"You know what's happened here?" he asks, rolling back the decades like some archealogical detective. "The concrete's been ready, they haven't got the reinforcing in and the boss' said - f?** it, let's pour."
He shakes his head.
Brady's no more upbeat. He was on site when Tawhai fell.
"The column in the middle just went," he says. "One of the slabs pushed against it and it just collapsed.
"We knew the site was bad. It was worse than we thought, that's all."
A posse of unionists, including Wyre and Docherty, join Brady, his engineer and Westfield's site boss for coffee at the mall across the road.
The discussion's polite but there's an edge.
Experienced CFMEU safety officer, Brian Miller, holds the floor. He's reasonable, but insistent. Not just about the demolition site but the Westfield area as well. He wants protection for workers and he insists on improved barriers, and traffic control, to keep shoppers and the general public out of harm's way.
"You're going to have to shut that road and the council's just going to have to live with it," he insists. "If that wall tumbles out, people could be killed."
Brady takes copious notes.
Labor Council's Mary Yaager will set out all the issues by fax for sign-off by Brady or Westfield.
Westfield's man is in a hurry. His company is said to be losing tens, if not hundreds of thousands, every day the pigeons rule the roost.
Docherty wants hard info, so he can call his workmates together and tell them exactly what happened, next door, and why? Brady agrees to address their meeting.
Once the demolition phase is complete and building gets into full swing there will be 1000 workers employed on the site. With just 65 there at the moment, Docherty is confident he will have collected $2000 by the end of the week to help Tawhai and his family.
Driving back to the city, Miller is filthy.
"It's all bloody wrong," he says. "Some of these people don't really care about safety."
He has a few targets in his sights - Workcover for not taking action when it was informed of the first slab collapse; and councils in general, for not policing or encouraging safe practises in their jurisdictions.
The Cole Commission, he insists, is derelict in its responsibilities to industry workers and the public for failing to highlight the issue. Worse, Miller argues, it's become a screen dodgy bosses are increasingly hiding behind.
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