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Beyond the expected

Building Collapse and OH&S in the ACT

By Sarah Schoonwater 31 October 2008 69

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. 

What’s Your opinion?


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Building Collapse and OH&S in the ACT
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dexi 1:46 pm 01 Nov 08

I worked in a non Union work place for a major construction company. It was all contract labour. There was lots of talk and paper work involving safety. In reality there where systemic breaches of OHS. When these came up, the Manager (Full time, bonuses) had one thing to say. “That’s the way it is”. I left because I couldn’t support the way it was. At least the unions give you the opportunity to negotiate rather than unemployment. I could of stayed, but the workmanship was shoddy, the billing fraudulent and crap job satisfaction. I loved my work, now I’m so bitter and angry that Ive made myself sick. Unions do more then OHS in the work place.

canberra towie 10:58 am 01 Nov 08

Vic Bitterman said :

Unions are nothing but sheltered workshops for bludgers and underachievers.

Today, they serve no other purpose.

To right Unions are full of dead beat bogan whingers and cause nothing but problems!

They occasionally stick there heads into something where they not welcome anyhow and try to convince there members “where here for you ”
But unless your a friggen idiot you know there only interested in lining there pockets with money from workers !!!
There is no place for unions in this day and age If you do your job properly you wont have a problem hence have no need to waist your money on a friggen union !!!

realityskin 6:25 am 01 Nov 08

The ABCC *is* dead, it will be finished being wound up in 2011.

radonezh 12:11 am 01 Nov 08

Indeed

thetruth 12:08 am 01 Nov 08

I would love to stop the stupid class distinction stuff – us v them is the oldest political trick in the book.

I hate seeing ads that show the “heroic worker” and the unscrupulous “bosses” – remember the union ads duing the November 07 poll – next item ….. executive bonuses har har har.

Like there is something inherently honest, noble and fair about a “working class man” (just look at the words of that song!!!! “he’s a simple man with a heart of gold….NEVER ….well he beats his little woman, to the inch of her life… spending all his overtime on a bundy with ice…. There are good and bad people everywhere, noble and honest everywhere, fair-minded everywhere, drug addicts everywhere, alcoholics everywhere and arrogant people everywhere.

radonezh 11:28 pm 31 Oct 08

thetruth said :

oh no not the mediorchre class rising up now

LOL. Visions of Dame Edna Everage. 🙂

Middle class does not mean mediocre.

radonezh 11:25 pm 31 Oct 08

Socialism, capitalism.. two heads of the same coin. Both are based on the love of money. One says “fight to acquire as much as you can” the other says “fight to distribute it as evenly as possible”. Either way, it’s all about money rather than morality. Safety, is simply a political football between unions and the big corporates. There are few industries and their trade unions that really have a good handle on safety. The ones that do, have established genuine cooperative, open relationships between employers, unions, workers and contractors. The ones that don’t (like the building industry and its unions), continue to point fingers at each other, so the best thing for it is to put them both in the dock.

thetruth 11:23 pm 31 Oct 08

radonezh said :

Goanna: I ain’t saying the Corporates are any better than the Socialists. They are all the same because they all seek to destroy the middle classes.

oh no not the mediorchre class rising up now

radonezh 11:13 pm 31 Oct 08

Goanna: I ain’t saying the Corporates are any better than the Socialists. They are all the same because they all seek to destroy the middle classes.

radonezh 11:10 pm 31 Oct 08

The socialist workers’ paradise must have bad things happening. That’s rule number 1 of socialism. If you don’t have bad things happening, how can you maintain the rage to keep the revolution going?? If nothing bad happens of its own accord, then the wise socialist has to make it happen through intervention. Then, when it does happen, he/she blames the bourgois middle class for whatever bad thing has occurred.

thetruth 11:05 pm 31 Oct 08

Goanna said :

…and the bitter RA spazzo-cons hijack and destroy yet another promising thread.

Why was it “promising”?

Goanna 11:01 pm 31 Oct 08

…and the bitter RA spazzo-cons hijack and destroy yet another promising thread.

thetruth 10:57 pm 31 Oct 08

btw nothing bad happens in socialist countries – hospitals are great, all kids are educated, there are no poor people, the environment is safe, the media fiercely pursues the truth uninfluenced by dirty money and workers do not die on the job.

thetruth 10:54 pm 31 Oct 08

Passy said :

Skidbladnir, my socialist vision includes having safe workplaces. If that conflicts with societal norms (which I doubt)then society needs changing.

I don’t think anyone is saying they don’t want safe workplaces – but unions are as guilty as anyone when it comes to covering up for their members mistakes, judgement etc. So quick to blame the employer and NEVER (EVER) blame the workers.

It was the same a few years ago when Telstra was part Government owned – if something bad happened it was ALWAYS because of the 49% private ownership and NEVER the 51% public ownership. Hospitals poor performance is ALWAYS because of underfunding , NEVER because of public ownership.

Unions will be taken seriously when they cease to use safety as the arguement for lowering productivity OR entrenching power. Basically, they have lost the moral high ground – they are the boy who cried wolf.

radonezh 10:46 pm 31 Oct 08

madocci: you are spot on the money.

Passy:

Passy said :

If the boss says to do something, given the power imbalance and the Howard push to destroy unions, you do it.

Geez mate, haven’t you heard? Howard hasn’t been around for a year now.. and guess what else? He had nothing to do with the ACT safety regulator – ever. But just keep pumping out the propagandistic jingoism mate.. it’s all you guys know how to do. You’re just as bad as the big corporates with their massive advertising campaigns and airy-fairy “mission statements”. It’s all opportunistic garbage designed to recruit new members.

Power imbalance? The only power imbalance is that sub contractors are the meat in the sandwich between unions and the big corporates. Thats why you both are culpable in my view.

radonezh 10:35 pm 31 Oct 08

Passy said :

Skidbladnir, my socialist vision includes having safe workplaces. If that conflicts with societal norms (which I doubt)then society needs changing.

Radonezh, the thing about commonsense and mowing the lawns is that you do it as part of your own activity, not to make a profit for a boss. So the pressure to cut corners is not there, and you can take your time and implement your own sensible safety standards. You self-regulate.

You are quoting the wrong person. I quoted cranky when he mentioned lawns. I responded to him saying that the big equipment is much more dangerous than lawnmowers.

radonezh 10:33 pm 31 Oct 08

Passy said :

Finally radonzeh, you end up blaming the workers for the problem. The same workers who can’t get their union onto site; the same workers who complain about safety; the same workers who are dependent on the boss for a job and a wage to feed their kids, pay the mortgage etc? If the boss says to do something, given the power imbalance and the Howard push to destroy unions, you do it.

No mate, I don’t blame the workers, I blame the UNIONS, as WELL as the greed bosses.

madocci 10:31 pm 31 Oct 08

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.
LOL! Having experienced the kind of individuals that I have within the CFMEU and other unions, I can certainly vouch for this not being the case. Maybe thuggery is so common that it becomes invisible to the untrained eye?…

I would ask: is it the employer (i.e. developer’s) responsibility if a worker goes against saftey precautions and this causes an accident that results in harm? I mean you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink…

From my experience a lot of the problem could be solved if the bravado mentality (that is common within the building culture) was removed.

Having said all that, someone needs to look out for safety in the workplace, especially the more dangerous ones. Maybe it belongs best with a group that has that as their main and only concern. Unions have so much else on their plates, maybe they are a little overloaded?

Passy 10:26 pm 31 Oct 08

Skidbladnir, my socialist vision includes having safe workplaces. If that conflicts with societal norms (which I doubt)then society needs changing.

Radonezh, the thing about commonsense and mowing the lawns is that you do it as part of your own activity, not to make a profit for a boss. So the pressure to cut corners is not there, and you can take your time and implement your own sensible safety standards. You self-regulate.

You don’t have that luxury in the workplace where the dollar, not safety, is the boss’s bottom line. Besides which, working on a building site is inherently more dangerous than mowing the lawn.

Finally radonzeh, you end up blaming the workers for the problem. The same workers who can’t get their union onto site; the same workers who complain about safety; the same workers who are dependent on the boss for a job and a wage to feed their kids, pay the mortgage etc? If the boss says to do something, given the power imbalance and the Howard push to destroy unions, you do it.

thetruth 10:23 pm 31 Oct 08

Don’t forget the ACT has industrial manslaughter laws – which manager is going to say “Hey I know its unsafe and I might go to jail but I need to keep to budget”. Sorry guys it just doesn’t happen like that….

Accidents happen because of errors of judgement or poor concentration – we wish it wouldn’t happen, we all feel for the victims – but it happens.

People drive too far, too drunk (btw I walked past a pub a few weeks ago in Brissie and there were hundred of workman having a BIG liquid lunch before going back to the building site, cut corners to get home earlier etc etc and it will happen with or without unions. I would love a union to own up when the accident happen because a member was drunk or lazy or incompetent – in 40 years on this planet I have NEVER heard that – but it must have happened more than once.

Time for honesty

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