Interview: Trading in Principle
Unions: While We Were Away
Politics: Follow the Leader
Bad Boss: Safety Recidivist Fingered
Economics: Casualisation Shrouded In Myths
History: Worker Control Harco Style
Review: Other Side Of The Harbour
All The Way With FTA?
State Of Confusion
Give Them A Medal
Safety Recidivist Fingered
By Jim Marr
Giant property developer, Australand, has earned February's gong after 150 union members were forced into a week of industrial wrangling to win safety improvements at adjacent Eastern Creek sites on Sydney's western fringe.
The CFMEU members voted to take action over safety concerns after a contractor was observed working at height, near the edge of one of the developments, without a harness or any other protective equipment.
Readers familiar with the activities of shonks in the construction industry might argue, so what, construction contractors cut safety corners every day of the week? A senate inquiry was listening to evidence to that effect, from employers and worker representatives, as Australand workers voted for action.
But, as CFMEU secretary Andrew Ferguson points out, it was on an Australand site at Eastern Creek, barely three months earlier, that 16-year-old Joel Exner lost his life after a fall.
Workmates alleged that Exner, just three days out of school, had been working without a restraint, or harness, or any other form of fall protection.
His death led to an emotional rally of 10,000 NSW workers baring down on Macquarrie St and demanding industrial manslaughter legislation from embattled legislators. After a meeting with Exner's bereaved mother, and the families of other people killed at work, Industrial Relations Minister John Della Bosca promised changes that would hold rogue employers accountable.
Ferguson described the latest Australand safety failure as "unbelievable".
His members voted to teach the developer a lesson as it announced a record annual profit to the stock exchange, revealing it had pocketed $95.2 million for the year to December 31, from earnings of $1.4 billion.
And it wasn't just the union that pointed the finger. State safety authority, Workcover, wrote out prohibition and improvement notices to both Australand and one of its Eastern Creek contractors.
Workers Online was unable to ascertain the current cost of a safety harness but understands adequate scaffolding on typical residential developments might set a developer or contractor back between $20,000 and $40,000 on sites where profit margins can often be counted in millions.
News February 12, 2004
WorkCover's Fatality Investigation Unit last week confirmed completion of its official report into Exner's death at Eastern Creek. Chief executive officer, Jon Blackwell, said the report had been forwarded to both the NSW Coroner and Workcover's legal branch for consideration of prosecution, "subject to the outcome of the coronial inquest".
Blackwell pledged his organisation would "bring the full weight of the law to bear on all those involved in this tragic accident".
"We will be closely examining the case against those concerned in the management of the companies involved," he said.
Australand is a worthy nomination for an award commemorating the attitudes of former Workplace Relations Minister, Tony Abbott, who launched a $60 million Royal Commission, partly on the strength of his contention that safety was just another tool in the building workers' kit bag for industry domination.
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