Firstly, can I thank all of you who have posted to Riot Act over the past few days on the collapse of formwork at the Leighton’s job in civic on Monday. It is important that the issues surrounding occupational health and safety on construction are discussed in all social and political forums, and prevention of such ‘accidents’ is quite simply what is needed to bring down the fatality and injury toll on Austalian work sites. It must be remembered that on average one construction worker in Australia is killed every single week at work. This fatality rate is higher than the national road toll, and the injury at work rate is much, much higher than this.
The facts are simple when it comes to accidents in the construction industry. Workers lives are put at risk when there are shortcuts taken by contractors and principle contractors, when excessive hours are worked, and when current laws prevent trained Cert 4 OH&S union officials access to construction sites. Safety is union business, because it is the primary concern of our members and every other construction worker when they roll up for work every day. Union sites are safer sites, speak to any construction worker and they will tell you the same thing.
The CFMEU’s first priority always has been and always will be safety, and we believe that it is the fundamental right of every worker to be able to return home to their family and friends at the end of a working day. Having spoken to many of the workers who were on site this week, they have spoken of how their first thoughts were that they were about to die. At least three of the men on site, had concrete and formwork and metal collapse within metres of where there were standing. One man told me that all he could think of was that his family needed him, his son, his daughter and his girlfriend needed him. I know when I got the phonecall about the collapse, my first question was “who has been killed?”.
The CFMEU is not about heavy handed tactics, or bullying or indeed ‘thuggery’. As the first female Secretary of a Building and Construction Industry, I assure you the ‘thug’ label certainly does not apply to me or any of the officials and staff I choose to employ.
But one thing must be said; when workers lives are put at risk, when there are practices which are used on construction sites to save money, and create time efficiencies, I will not stand down from fighting against these practices. I will not back away from the workers rights for Authorised Safety Representatives – which include many trained union officials – to stop trying to gain access to work sites. And I certainly will not be backing away from ensuring that all construction workers are provided with the same rights as all other workers in Australia, and to achieve that the abolition of the Australian Builiding and Construction Commission (ABCC). It must be remembered that most of the ‘complaints’ investigated by the ABCC involved workers, delegates and union officials who stopped work because of safety breaches.
My goal every day when I come to work is to ensure that every single one of my members and their collegues go home to their families at night. If that means that I am labelled a ‘thug’ or if it means I face interrogation or a goal sentence because of the current IR laws and the existence of the ABCC, then so be it.