In Brisbane, two construction workers have died a terrible death, crushed by a nine-tonne concrete panel. They had no means of escape as the panel crashed down, caught at the bottom of a pit, with no emergency exit and nowhere to run.
The panels were being erected without a safe work method statement. Elementary precautions were absent. In fact, anyone wanting to design a way to kill people could simply follow this procedure.
Their workmates saw them die. The horror will never leave them. They will carry the image and memory of this disaster until their own dying day.
Their families have lost a dad, a husband a brother or sister.
Four days later, on the other side of the country in the Perth CBD, a 27-year-old woman fell 13 floors to her death. She was standing on a bucket applying silicone to the joints of a precast panel, but must have been too close to the edge.
The builder instructed work to continue. Concrete was poured, other work kept going. Some workers on site didn’t even realise that one of them had fallen to their death.
She was a tourist from Germany on a working holiday visa. The visa is designed to allow young backpackers to earn a few dollars doing fruit picking or bar work as they made their way around the country. It’s supposed to be a “cultural exchange” between the home country and Australia.
Somewhere in Germany, a family is paying a terrible price for this “cultural exchange.”
The construction company, Hanssen, is on record saying that around 50 per cent of the construction workers on its sites are backpackers. They are paid low wages and are mostly untrained and inexperienced in construction - one of the most high-risk industries in Australia and around the world.
The company's managing director, Gerry Hanssen, has sought to blame the victim, claiming she should have been wearing a harness. He needs to have a good hard look at himself. Putting an untrained inexperienced worker in a high risk job is never acceptable.
The CFMEU had been to the site and raised numerous issues in the months and weeks leading up to the tragedy. Hanssen had refused to cooperate with the union and deal with safety breaches. Indeed, he has since said workers need to take responsibility for their own safety.
Where is the government in all of this?
Construction workers increasingly and justifiably regard government safety inspectors with thinly disguised contempt. Some inspectors try their best to bring safety and order to this dangerous industry, but the mantra of ‘light touch’ regulation has captured the dim imagination of the senior safety bureaucrats. Precious few of these highly paid managers, who the community fund in the expectation they will enforce government safety laws in the workplace, have ever experienced the reality of dangerous, high risk work.
The Federal Safety Commission (FSC) illustrates this point. The ‘tick and flick’ accreditation scheme administered by this agency has had little or no impact on safety.
John Holland are still accredited, despite seven convictions for breaching safety laws, four fatalities and a number of accidents that have left people maimed for life. What is the point of this the FSC when offenders like John Holland continue to get accreditation under schemes that are supposed to protect workers health and safety, and the fines levied are immaterial to their corporate balance sheet?
The FSC is set up under the same laws that established the Australian Building and Construction Commission, now the Fair Work Building Commission, which prosecutes workers and unions for strikes, bargaining breaches and right of entry matters. This body has dozens of prosecutions on foot against the CFMEU and its officials.
It receives $35 million per annum in government funding and churns out a relentless ream of media releases trumpeting these proceedings.
The federal government wants to pass laws giving the ABCC more powers and increasing fines on workers and unions.
Gerry Hanssen is a strong supporter of these laws, and of the Liberal Party. He does a fair bit of fundraising for the WA Branch, apparently.
The Turnbull Government seemingly has no plans to do anything about the sort of atrocities we’ve seen in the last few days. Nothing at all.
When Turnbull and Cash talk about “restoring the rule of law to the construction industry,” they’re not talking about justice for Humberto Leite, Ashley Morris or Marianka Heumann. In fact, they’ve been completely silent about these tragedies, preferring to continue their dishonest smear campaign against construction workers and their unions.
That tells you everything you need to know about their priorites.
The Turnbull government’s only plan is to re-establish an organisation that persecutes the CFMEU, the union which wants to do something about the carnage in our industry.
The Turnbull government allows property barons to employ a large number of people on a raft of visas that ultimately cost them less than skilled and experienced local workers. They allow them to cut corners on safety as they takes advantage of these workers’ inexperience. They gift them laws so they can put a stop to any obstructive union official who wants to insist on the enforcement of safety laws.
These are laws which impose will impose massive penalties on workers and unions for taking industrial action or failing to fill in the right paperwork to access sites. All of this means less safety for workers; fatalities increased the last time the ABCC was in place.