||Issue No. 249||03 December 2004|
Interview: Minority Report
Industrial: Girl Power
Unions: Made in NZ
History: Spirit for a Fair Go
Economics: Fool's Gold
Politics: Worth Fighting For
Health: The Force Behind Medibank
Legal: Robust Justice
International: After the Revolution
Poetry: The Sound of Unions
Review: Bad Santa
The Locker Room
Not A Casey Fan
20 Dead – Stockmarket Applauds
The five-month inquiry found BHP Billiton’s industrial relations practises, built on the aggressive use of AWAs, had compromised workplace safety.
The $17 billion industry faces an overhaul after Perth barrister, Mark Ritter, confirmed safety shortcomings had contributed to the loss of 20 lives in the past year.
He described the introduction of individual contracts at BHP Billiton's operations, since November 1999, as "a factor which has impacted and continues to impact on the successful implementation of safety systems".
"BHP has been pinged trying to break down safety standards through the use on AWAs," ACTU Pilbara organiser, Will Tracey, said.
"Occupational health and safety representatives are the bedrock of our system. But in its efforts to marginalise unions, BHP has effectively marginalised two thirds of elected OH&S representatives because they wanted to remain on awards.
"To be effective, occupational health and safety has to be a collective responsibility. That's recognised by the Act and by expert commentators but not by the federal government or BHP.
"What this report identifies is that when BHP devised its industrial strategy, based on individual contracts, it didn't take into account its disastrous effect on safety.
"The sad thing is that it has taken the lives of so many people to bring this to light."
Ritter made 32 recommendations, 21 directed at the world's largest minerals company, BHP Billiton, and 11 at the industry in WA.
The most significant is the call to take policing of mining health and safety, and dangerous goods, away from the Department of Industry and Resources and place it alongside other industries, under the Department of Consumer and Employment Protection.
The state government has confirmed it will act on that recommendation, drawing immediate flak from the mining industry.
Tracey described the move as "fantastic" and "long overdue".
"It is a measure of the political power of the minerals lobby that mine safety was ever in the hands of Industry and Resources," Tracey said.
"The department had an impossible conflict of interest. Its primary responsibility was to promote the industry and safety always played second fiddle to that.
"It's something we have been calling for, for years."
Ritter recommends that BHP's Boodarie iron ore plant, near Port Hedland, be reclassified as a "hazardous facility".
The state government investigation identified safety problems at BHP sites, and across the industry.
It found ...
- one mineworker had completed 24 hours without sleep, another had done a 17 hour day, and others worked 13.5 hour days for 30 continuous days.
- management behaviour at one mine made it clear "production at all costs" was the agenda, with safety issues ignored for years.
- a quarter of the workforce at one site claimed they were regularly made to breach safety regulations
- safety concerns at Yandi had been ignored until a crane driver refused to do his job
- a worker had been sent into a life-threatening situation without any prosecution resulting
The report was tabled in the Western Australian state parliament, last Friday.
On Monday, a surge in BHP Billiton's share price headed a minerals-led bounce on the Australian stock market.
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