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Tag Archives: Industrial deaths

ACTU advocating justice calls for on-the-job deaths

Responding to revelations surrounding of an increase of workers killed in workplace-related accidents last year, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has called for a national set of legislation aimed at punishing those who fail to keep their workplaces safe to acceptable standards.

An ACTU delegation of union officials and family members who have lost loved ones at their worksites spoke out in front of the Federal Senate Courtyard in Canberra on Thursday, and highlighted the fact that 183 workers were killed on Australian worksites and places of business in 2019, an increase of 37 deaths viewed as unavoidable by them as well as WorkSafe compared to 2018.

That rise marked the first of its kind in year-to-year statistics since 2007, said the ACTU.

Moreover, the ACTU sought to remind everyone that these aren’t just statistics – these are actual people who lost their lives at work due to accidents, and how their families, friends and loved ones have been impacted by such losses of life.

“Everyone should feel safe at work. No worker is expendable. Everyone has a right to go home to their families at the end of every day,” said Liam O’Brien, the ACTU’s assistant secretary.

Elsewhere, in Victoria alone, the state’s WorkSafe organisation reported on November 20 that with the electrocution death of a 29-year-old country farm hand in Gerang Gerung, located near Dimboola in the state’s central regions between Horsham and Warracknabeal, approximately 340 kilometres northwest of Melbourne, the state’s 2020 workplace-related fatalities toll has risen to 61, a rise of two from 2019 to date.

The state’s increase rate in workplace-related fatalities over the previous 365 days had been as high as five, when in late October, a 71-year-old worker at a northern Geelong folding bed manufacturing factory got his clothes tangled in machinery.

“I can’t begin to imagine the pain felt by the families who have lost a loved one at work. I don’t want any families to suffer that type of trauma,” said Jill Hennessey, the state’s Attorney-General, when Spring Street passed a workplace manslaughter law last year.

“We promised we’d make workplace manslaughter a criminal offence and that’s exactly what we’ve done – because there is nothing more important than every worker coming home safe every day,” added Hennessey, who was the minister for workplace safety for the Andrews Labor government at the time of the law’s passage that she was responsible for.


ACTU assistant secretary Liam O’Brien, calling for action from the Morrison government on workplace deaths (Photo from the ACTU)


Under this legislation, in the state of Victoria, workplace manslaughter is deemed a criminal offence, with employers who negligently cause a workplace death are due to face fines of up to $16.5 million and individuals potentially facing up to 20 years in jail.

Similar laws are also being introduced in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory – and O’Brien and the ACTU have called for the Morrison government to step up and introduce similar legislation nationally.

“We hope that politicians on all sides will understand the importance of committing to tougher workplace health and safety laws – especially when hearing that there has been an increase of fatalities since 2018,” he said.

“The Morrison government must take action to ensure that no matter where a worker is killed their family can expect these deaths to be thoroughly investigated and employers are held to account,” added O’Brien.

Victoria Trades Hall has worked together with WorkSafe Victoria to ensure that if a worksite death does occur, that actions such as the offering of counselling, leave, and bereavement are available to all co-workers, affected family members and friends.

“Dealing with grief takes time. It is a normal response to death, trauma and loss. People need support at different times and in different ways. What happens in a workplace following a death can be a very important part of the process,” Luke Hilakari, VTH secretary, wrote in a guide to enable businesses’ occupational health and safety representatives deal with such incidents in a case-by-case basis.

Currently, the biggest industry increases in workplace fatalities have occurred in the construction industry, followed by public administration and safety, and then agriculture. As of 2018, each of these industries had suffered a rate of fatalities at a higher rate than their respective prior five-year averages.

The casualisation of labour forces on job sites, aided and abetted by a move from the Morrison government last year to amend the Fair Work Act (2009) to require union officials to pre-register within 24 hours before setting foot on a job site, is said to be a contributing factor to the increase of workplace-related fatalities.

Sally McManus, the ACTU’s secretary, disclosed on Thursday that in the recently-concluded industrial relations reform negotiations, that proposed changes to the Greenfields laws under the Fair Work Act that would have enhanced workers’ protections on site were voted down by some business groups, which McManus identified as the mining and resource lobby.

“These construction projects rely on FIFO workforces, who both live and work on site. They have been plagued with problems related to mental health, with a high number of suicides,” said McManus.

“If there is no means for workers on these sites to address problems as they arise, and they are denied the right all other workers have to renegotiate their working conditions, they must as a minimum have access to the Fair Work Commission to resolve issues so we do not see an intensification of the pre-exiting issues.

“Unfortunately, the mining and resource employers rejected this reasonable and sensible offer and pushed for agreements being doubled in length, expanding the scope so even construction sites in cities are covered and locking workers out of any fair means to resolving issues as they arise,” McManus added.

Lowering the numbers of workplace fatalities should involve issues surrounding fairness, as well as that as compassion towards enhancing policies around OH&S issues, according to O’Brien.

“You cannot hear the harrowing stories of these loved ones left behind and not want to commit to stronger laws protecting Australians in their workplaces,” he said.

“Every year hundreds die in workplaces and their families deserve justice,” added O’Brien.



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A letter to Tony Abbott: “Not everybody dies at sea”

Dear Tony Abbott,

Unless you have no respect for human life, especially for those who attempt to escape from their miserable existence to take ‘illegal’ refuge in this country, you should be saddened by the deaths that occur in our northern waters of those very people who seek a better life in our free land. But apparently you aren’t:

One well-placed Liberal source told The Australian that Abbott would rather see Labor continue to bleed politically with ongoing boat arrivals. If that means deaths at sea continue, he said, so be it.

Doesn’t that haunt you?

It is disgraceful that your hence blame the Government for these deaths. It is gutter politics. Crocodile tears are shed for ‘illegal immigrants’ who die in rickety boats, while knowing full well that it is favourable to your political fortunes to have them drown at sea. And why is it favourable? Because your words endeavour to make it so, that’s why. This recent piece in The Guardian, “Is the asylum problem a ‘national emergency’, as Tony Abbott says?” hardens my glare at you.

This “crisis”, in Abbott’s opinion, involves the tens of thousands of irregular maritime arrivals and hundreds of deaths at sea under the Labor government, described by Abbott as a “national emergency” during the policy announcement.

I’m perplexed that you are outwardly so concerned about the number of íllegal immigrants’ dying at sea. The number of deaths aren’t small, yet they are small compared to the number of deaths suffered by ‘ordinary’ Australians for which you have not one policy to address. Perhaps it’s because you can’t grab some political mileage from them, which is the purpose of this letter. Here are some examples.

Over 2100 Australians commit suicide each year. How many of these people were ignored, neglected or marginalised by society? How many were the result of bullying? How many were due to a mental illness? Mr Abbott, do you have any policies to address this, or don’t you care? Please let us know either way.

Over 1000 Australians a year die due to illicit drug related incidences. Tony Abbott, do you have any policies to address this, or don’t you care? Please let us know either way. And should you care to follow the link just provided you’ll notice that there are also 19,000 deaths that are associated with tobacco use. Unlike the asylum seeker deaths I doubt this will concern you. Your objection to plain paper packaging of cigarette packets is well-known. Could it be because between 1998 and 2011 your party received over $3 million in donations from tobacco companies? Personally, I find this a bit odd given you were the Minister of Health in the Howard Government. There wouldn’t be a health professional in the world who disputes the dangers of smoking and I have difficulty comprehending your stand stand when considering your portfolio background and ‘headlining’ commitment to your own good health.

I’m not expecting any of these to be addressed as it will actually mean that policies will need to be formulated or services promised. As Minister for Health under the Howard Government you had no hesitation to heartlessly rip $1B out of health care funding without a single thought of the consequences. You even tried to justify your actions. Now all of a sudden you are concerned about the deaths of refugees and I doubt that these concerns are genuine. Really, you have no compunction about these people dying in their own country. You might remember you belonged to a government that was quite happy to take the war to them.

Take a look at what’s happening in your own backyard; people are dying from preventable deaths. Is it too much to ask to stop and think about these? What’s going to happen when and if you are Prime Minister of this country? Turning boats around so the refugees can die somewhere else is an act of neglect. Coming up with nothing to stop the deaths from those cited above is also an act of neglect.

I would be thrilled if you were to show some genuine passion for the victims of tragic deaths in this country. Show us you care by showing us a policy. Forget about chanting “Stop the boats”. Focus on trying to “Stop the deaths”.

Face the truth, refugees will continue to die and it won’t be your fault or Labor’s fault. Stop blaming someone else all the time. Remember how you blamed the Government for those four unfortunate deaths under the Home Insulation Program? Might I ask what policies have you implemented to create safer work environments or reduce shoddy work practices? I know the answer: absolutely none. While you can gain political advantage out of people dying you see no incentive whatsoever to come up with a remedy. These deaths are a convenience for you. I find that pathetic. Over 200 Australians a year die because of industrial deaths. How many were the result of unsafe work practices? Mr Abbott, I ask again, do you have any policies to address this, or don’t you care? Please let us know either way.

You are a person who says everything and does nothing.

Not everybody dies at sea. Or in a ceiling installing insulation for that matter. Rather than trying to gain political traction over select deaths, show some concern about those deaths that you cant use for political mileage.

Photo courtesy of The Daily Telegraph Pole

Photo courtesy of The Daily Telegraph Pole


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