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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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69 Responses to
Building Collapse and OH&S in the ACT
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Passy 8:32 pm 01 Nov 08

Thanks dexi.

I look forward to the results of the investigation into the collapse and its causes.

It would have helped if Martin Kingham, the Australia wide recognised CFMEU safety expert, had been allowed on site.

Methinks those crowing about the death of unions are a little premature. Twenty percent of workers are still in unions; they are still to more or less degree democratic and they (or at least the stronger ones) could impose real safety standards on business if they were so inclined and prepared.

I think the global recession will impact on unions by weakening their bargaining power. Fear is not an organising tool. But on building sites the CFMEU is strong and can still resist to some extent the power of big capital. And one of the most important parts of that is making workplaces safe. It’s as important as winning real wage increases and defending jobs.

As to all the snide references to “socialist” countries – which ones? Again I think those who say this confuse stalinism with socialism.

But let’s stick to the main point – the CFMEU has as one of its major functions the protection of workers on site. Rudd’s Workchoices Lite, which keeps about 95% of Howard’s IR laws, nobbles the ability of unions to protect the safety of workers. It should be abolished to enable unions to defend their members from building collapses, and attacks on their wages, conditions and jobs.

thetruth 12:36 am 02 Nov 08

Passy said :

As to all the snide references to “socialist” countries – which ones? Again I think those who say this confuse stalinism with socialism.


Because socialism has never extisted – those who are socialist become drunk with power.

An fear is not a good organising tool ???? what the… ???? The whole union campaign in the last election was based on creating fear. Its the ONLY tool of the unions … still no admission that there has EVER been a death caused by the incompetence of a union member (its always the bosses fault

nomnomnom 7:18 am 03 Nov 08

canberra towie said :

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 !!!

Wow man, seriously not even spell check can handle this kind of turgid rant.

It amazes me that the young libs in Canberra have slipped so far in their spelling and grammar. The really worrying thing is that you will probably complain that your lecturer is a trot, whale hugging hippy when he fails your essay.

poptop 8:27 am 03 Nov 08

Be fair nomnomnom, The Truth [@62] provided an equally turgid [albeit mercifully briefer] rant.

The grammar and spelling was better, but the 8 question marks, the stream of consciousness and the way the post just trails off more than makes up for that.

Danman 10:08 am 03 Nov 08

I’s not a friggin english lesson.

All you need to do is get your message across as you see fit

The fact that you both mention its a rant indicates to me that you both understood it – not everyone has 100% grammar accuracy – deal with it….

Granny 11:35 am 03 Nov 08

I don’t have a lot of love personally for unions given that I was a single parent with three small children living below the poverty line in the 80s when there was a lot of industrial unrest.

I found that most Canberrans could circumvent garbage strikes by driving their garbage to the tip, and bus strikes by getting in their car or taking a taxi. At the end of the week, I needed the bus just to get into an ATM to get my food money out for the coming week. In all these things, I found it was the poorest who were hit hardest and hurt most from the many strikes.

I didn’t mind it when the bus drivers took industrial action in the form of not collecting fares and letting the passengers on for free, though, but that sort of thing was rare.

Historically, though, I have a lot of admiration for the unions and I believe that they do provide important safeguards within our system. I also feel that there are many good-hearted union people in there batting for their people against injustices and abuses that we tend not to see or hear about at all. I am also a huge fan of the greenbans.

My feeling is that, generally, as with gender issues, it should not be about a battle but everybody acknowledging their interdependence and working together for a mutual good.

Mr Evil 1:30 pm 03 Nov 08

Amazing what Google comes up with sometimes –

“Union officials’ club deal revealed
3/11/2006 9:19:05 AM.

Two directors of the Canberra Tradesmen’s Union Club and the Woden Tradesmen’s Union Club each stand to earn commissions of hundreds of thousands of dollars if investments they have recommended pay off.

The directors, George Wason and Sarah Schoonwater, are also senior officials of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union which set up the Canberra Tradesmen’s Union Club in Dickson and its sister club in Woden……….”

Does anyone know what the outcome of this was?

nomnomnom 2:00 pm 03 Nov 08

I haven’t heard anything else about it.

Given the story was posted over 2 years ago, and has never been heard of since, it is seems like it was just a rumour started by a political opponent?

I think the CFMEU elections are on at the moment, and I don’t think anyone is running against the current people running the ACT Branch – which seems unlikely if they had been doing this sort of thing.

Skidbladnir 2:24 pm 03 Nov 08

Mr Evil, I saw it too, but I didn’t think it relevant to this thread.
(And there’s a lot better stories out there if you search well)

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