||Issue No. 206||05 December 2003|
A New Mark for Labor
Interview: Muscling Up
Unions: Thinking Pink
Bad Boss: Global Bully
Unions: National Focus
Economics: Friend or Flunkey?
History: Young Blood
Industrial: Living For Work?
International: Fighting Together
Poetry: Medicare Plus Blues
Review: Human Racing
The Locker Room
Bob Gould On Kicking The Liberals Out
Letters to the Editor
Feds Ignore Building Deaths
The Federal Government�s Building and Construction Improvement Bills are certain to result in more deaths and serious injuries on and near building sites, writes the Australian Greens Federal Member for Cunningham, Michael Organ.
To the surprise of no-one, the new Federal Minister for Workplace Relations Kevin Andrews has shown he will follow in the footsteps of his predecessors, Tony Abbott and Peter Reith in ignoring the genuine and desperate concerns of workers. Not to be outdone, the debate on the Building and Construction Improvement Bills in the House of Representatives this week will show that Mr Andrews can eclipse all of the Government�s previous attempts at controlling industrial relations outcomes - to the detriment of workplace safety. Each year more people will continue to die or be injured at or because of their jobs than the entire national road toll, yet Minister Andrews does not intervene to protect the lives of workers. Instead, he introduces a package of laws designed to stifle the influence of construction unions.
If these Bills become law, the construction industry will be transformed into one where workers cannot protect and advance their interests without first scaling legal and administrative mountains in a workplace where managerial discretion will rule the day. This legislative straight jacket is certain to make it harder for workers and their unions to campaign against unsafe work practices that affect individual building sites as well as the industry as a whole. As a result, workers and the community who work, drive or walk, on, under or near building sites remain at risk.
Why? Because it will be illegal for a worker to take industrial action about safety issues unless they can satisfy a Court that the action is �based on a reasonable concern about an imminent risk to his or her health or safety.� That�s right, real and tragically accurate predictions about the safety of others including colleagues, pedestrians, inexperienced workers and even Government officials are not and cannot be the business of workers. Worse still if employees are guided by their conscience and take action to protect the lives of others, they would be liable for fines of up to $22,000 each and $110,000 for their Unions.
Consider the recent tragic death of Sydney teenager Joel Exner, who fell to his death at work. Under the Government�s scenario workers who demanded Joel be given appropriate safety training and equipment and took action to make sure it happened would be liable for prosecution because they would be unable to show that Joel�s safety constituted an imminent risk to themselves. Surely, even the most passionate anti-union ideologue would think the Government should ditch its proposal in the interests of protecting the community, families and citizens.
To counter the Howard Governments proposals I will be introducing my Workplace Death and Serious Injury Private Member�s Bill into the House of Representatives as an amendment to these manifestly unsafe proposed building and construction industry laws. My approach offers a far more even handed, realistic and appropriate response to the critical issue of workplace safety, not just in the construction industry, but in all industries Australia wide. An obvious outcome of my Bill is that employers will no longer be able to negligently kill and seriously injure workers without criminal sanction. In turn my Bill will promote industrial peace and goodwill in the long term between workers, their unions and employers, which will only benefit the broader community. Surely that is not too much to ask?
My Bill amends the Commonwealth Criminal Code by creating an offence of Industrial Manslaughter that would provide for gaol terms of up to 25 years for employers that negligently kill their workers and 10 years in cases of serious injury. Additionally, fines of up to $50 Million could be served upon negligent Corporations in the same circumstances. These gaol terms merely mirror the current provisions for manslaughter in existing NSW criminal law.
Currently, there is a ground swell of support for Industrial Manslaughter legislation in Australia and Internationally. Close to home and in an event of historical significance the ACT passed its own Industrial Manslaughter legislation last week, whilst the United Kingdom is also responding to the demands of its citizens through clear and effective �corporate killing� proposals. Canada, a country with many similarities to Australia, has also passed an Industrial Manslaughter law this year in response to the 26 miners that died at work in the Westray mine disaster of 1992. Given this groundswell, it is only a matter of time and continuing protests until Industrial Manslaughter legislation becomes a reality Australia wide. Tragically though, the Federal Government has missed the point again and wasted yet another opportunity to protect the lives of workers and their families in the Building and Construction Industry, even though it could reduce this wholly unnecessary carnage in a blink of the eye. The question remains: how many more people must die at work before the Government addresses the most serious and overdue issue facing the workplaces of the nation?
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