In protests around the country on Workers Memorial Day, April 28, thousands of workers came out to remember those killed on the job and to protest against the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).
Speakers pointed out that since the ABCC was formed, deaths in the construction industry had risen from 3.14 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2004, to 4.27 in 2008. The rate peaked in 2006, at 5.6.
The Rudd government’s home insulation program, under which four workers died and there have been 120 house fires, also came under attack.
In Melbourne, Sue Bolton reports, 10,000 workers from all the building industry unions — Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU), Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, Electrical Trades Union and the plumbers union — showed their anger at the federal Labor government for keeping the draconian ABCC.
“We want a definite commitment from the government to abolish the ABCC”, said Dave Noonan, CFMEU construction division national secretary. He described the case of building worker Ark Tribe who faces court on June 15 for refusing to be questioned by the ABCC.
“Ark Tribe believes safety is more important than profit”, he said.
ETU state secretary Dean Mighell condemned deputy PM Julia Gillard’s rhetoric about maintaining a “tough cop on the beat” in the building industry.
“Where was the tough cop on the beat in Kevin Rudd’s insulation scheme that has seen four young Australians lose their lives?” he asked. “We are at an illegal meeting today. Welcome to a democratic country.”
The Greens moved a motion in the Senate to abolish the ABCC, but it was voted down by the Coalition and Labor. As a result, the Victorian branch of the CFMEU is calling for a vote for the Greens in the Senate.
Plumbers union state secretary Earl Setches said: “I was signed into the union by a delegate Keith Dickman, who looked after my safety on the job. Last year he went to work and never came home.”
Dickman’s widow, Bev, said: “If one of your family gets killed or hurt on the job, it’s the union that steps in and supports you. But the unions are hounded, they have no rights on jobs, they can go to jail and if workers stop working because of safety issues they’re in trouble. Without them, there will be no safety on the job.”
In Brisbane, Bill Mason reports, 1200 unionists rallied at Roma Street Forum and marched through city streets to state parliament. Crystal Ross, whose husband Tom Takarau, 25, was crushed to death on a worksite in 2008, led an emotional rally.
Ross said: “He is a man that will become nothing more than a statistic if we don’t do something to change what is becoming an all-too-common occurrence … Nothing we can do will make it okay, but what I ask now is that we all continue our fight to remind those who have forgotten that the construction union officials are here to do a goddamn job.
“They are here to ensure the people who build our nation are working under safe conditions, and because everyone has a right to return home to their families after a hard day’s work.”
Eight black hard hats were placed on crosses to commemorate the people who had died at work this year in Queensland, including three insulation installers.
On the Gold Coast, where two construction workers were killed this year, an estimated 2000 rallied.
There were also actions in Adelaide, Sydney and Perth.