“Ice” Drug Use Endemic in Construction Sector: Ai Group

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Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015
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Use of the drug Ice is particularly endemic in construction and a number of other blue collar sectors such as transport and manufacturing, according to a leading industry group which has hit out at what it sees as union resistance to drug testing.

In a submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement’s inquiry into crystal methamphetamine, otherwise known as Ice, the Australian Industry Group says prior evidence has shown that ice is particularly prevalent in a range of blue collar industries.

Previous data from the National Centre of Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA) showed that amphetamine usage was higher in the industries of hospitality, transport, construction, agriculture, retail and manufacturing compared with the four per cent average across the overall workforce. The data suggested that tradespeople and unskilled workers (with usage rates of 3.9 per cent and 3.7 per cent respectively) had the highest prevalence of going to work under the influence of illicit drugs compared with the general workforce (2.6 per cent).

Ai Group has called on unions to abandon what it says is their opposition to workplace drug testing.

“Ai Group’s submission highlights research which demonstrates that employers in the construction, manufacturing and transport industries are particularly affected given both the higher than average use of Ice by employees in these industries and the industry prevalence of heavy machinery and vehicle operation,” Ai Group executive director Innes Willox said.

“These are industries where work health and safety is paramount and Ice users are placing the lives of their co-workers and the community at greater risk. However, despite the safety concerns, instinctive opposition from some unions when workplace drug and alcohol testing is raised has inhibited many employers in managing work health and safety risks.”

Willox’s call comes amid criticism from industry lobby groups toward blue collar unions over what they see as a reluctance to embrace an employer’s right to test an employee to ensure that they are not turning up at work while under the influence of illicit substances.

The call also comes as the construction division of the Construction, Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) announced a proposal in March which would include a proposal for drug and alcohol testing as part of a broader impairment policy that the union would discuss with its members.

Under that policy, mandatory testing would take place across the board, and would include not only labourers, machinery operators and tradespeople but also employers, project managers and anyone else involved with operations on building sites.

Emphasis would be placed on help and support for those who need it rather than punishment of individuals for problems they experience, the union said at the time.

In a rebuttal to critics, CFMEU national secretary Dave Noonan wrote recently that the type of across the board testing that the union was proposing would ensure the safety of all workers on site.

By contrast, he said, the type of testing the union had opposed – random testing of a percentage of workers or focusing on one specific section of the workforce – was not adequate in terms of guaranteeing worker safety.

Meanwhile, the Transport Workers Union hit back at Willox’s statement, saying that the union had won a decision as far back as 2006 forcing employers to adopt a drug and alcohol policy and that since then the union had included drug policy in every inquiry opened by the road safety watchdog, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.

Both Coles and Ai Group, the union said, had consistently opposed the tribunal and refused to get on board with the issues it examines.

In its submission, Ai Group argued that a number of steps were needed to tackle the Ice epidemic, including recognition of the importance of workplace tests of drug and alcohol use, health and safety campaigns about the dangers of operating vehicles or heavy machinery while under the influence of methamphetamines, liaison services and dedicated hotlines, and educational resources for employers.

Willox said unions should do away with what he describes as opposition to drug and alcohol testing regimes.

“Ice is a particularly insidious drug as its usage is often difficult to detect without testing. Ai Group members tell us that unlike alcohol and other drugs, Ice users often have no prior history and initially show no unusual behaviour. It was only when it was too late and an incident had occurred or when testing was conducted that the Ice usage was revealed,” he said.

“Unions need to drop their opposition and accept drug and alcohol testing regimes that will deter drug and alcohol use and lead to safer working environments. They need to work with employers to make drug and alcohol testing regimes effective.”

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