Death on Grocon site – industrial manslaughter laws needed says socialist councillor

Workers blockade a Grocon site in Melbourne last year.

This statement was released by the Socialist Alliance Moreland councillor Sue Bolton on February 20.

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Experienced crane driver and union activist Billy Ramsay was killed on the Grocon construction site in central Melbourne on February 18. This news was buried many pages inside the Murdoch-owned Herald Sun daily tabloid.

There has been no investigation by the Herald Sun into the dangerous state of the Grocon site. And yet, in August and September last year, the Herald Sun ran daily front cover stories for at least a week with screaming headlines describing construction workers and their union, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), as "bullies" and "thugs".

This was because the CFMEU had organised a 16-day demonstration by building workers outside the site to protest Grocon's practice of choosing the health and safety and union representatives. The fact that the union and workers weren't able to pick their own representatives, has made it easier for Grocon to operate its sites with terrible health and safety issues.

Grocon workers report that anyone who raises a health and safety issue on site is bullied.

This situation has become disastrous with Ramsay falling 10 stories to his death. A Worksafe investigation has started to find out exactly what happened.

While it is not known exactly what led to Ramsay's death, the fact that Grocon maintains such an unsafe site with employer-picked union "delegates" and hand-picked OHS "representatives" increased the likelihood of such a tragedy occurring.

The Baillieu government devoted enormous state resources to protect the economic interests of Grocon and its owners, the Grollo family, at the expense of the health and safety and economic security of the workers.

Last year, the Victorian government mobilised almost 1000 police on one morning of the protest. This is one in every 13 officers in Victoria. During the dispute, 3067 police shifts were worked.

This information was only revealed as a result of a freedom of information request from the union. The police withheld information on the cost of the police operation.

Even if Worksafe finds that Ramsay's death is a result of negligence by Grocon, the penalty is unlikely to be anything more than a mild fine, a slap on the wrist.

The time is well overdue for industrial manslaughter laws to be introduced all over Australia. A company causing a worker's death or injury through negligent health and safety practices should be charged with manslaughter for deliberately causing death or injury, just like when an individual causes a death.

The James Hardie company produced the asbestos for many decades after it was known by scientists that asbestos kills people. James Hardie's negligence was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, yet not one James Hardie executive has been sent to jail for this crime.

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