On the steps of Victorian Trades Hall, on the morning of April 27, the deaths of 26 workers in Victoria over the past year were remembered in a moving service for International Workers’ Memorial Day.
The official statistics provided by WorkSafe do not take into account workers killed by occupational disease, in accidents in transit or people working on their own. Considering this, unions estimate that more than 200 workers were killed in Victoria over the past year in relation to their work.
Marking the occasion, union members declared that “we remember the dead, but we must fight for the living”, with Victorian Trades Hall Council Secretary Luke Hilakari proclaiming that “one death at work is one death too many”.
Unions also launched a campaign to put pressure on the state government to make industrial manslaughter a crime in Victoria, taking cues from Queensland as well as the industrial manslaughter laws in Britain.
Addressing a public meeting to launch the campaign, Occupational Health and Safety lead organiser Paul Sutton said: “there is [currently] no justice” for workers killed on the job in Victoria.
Sutton described the death of a worker at the Eastern treatment plant for Melbourne Water. The worker drowned after falling through a missing grate on a walkway into the return activated sludge channel. He said the company had known about the missing grate for more than two years and the issue had been reported numerous times.
“Melbourne Water, one of the biggest companies in Victoria, was fined $400,000,” Sutton said. “A ‘slap on the wrist’ for such a large company. The courts found that the death could have been prevented if the grates were bolted properly to the walkways.
“Killing and injuring workers has literally become a cost of doing business in this state: [companies] literally insure [themselves] against it as part of their cost process.
“Victorian Trades Hall is starting a campaign for industrial manslaughter laws. A maximum of 20 years jail time for individuals found guilty and up to $15 million fines for corporations.
“We want our laws to cover everybody and offer everyone [workers and members of the public] the same protection. We have met with politicians, Labor and Greens ... and said to them: we want change. Currently, our politicians are saying ‘no’.”
Sutton told Green Left Weekly politicians “should listen to the people”.
“Society expects that if you are negligent and kill someone, there is an adequate punishment. Politicians need to follow the will of the people on this.”
Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) Health and Safety Unit Manager Gerry Ayers said: “It still appears that, in 2018, employers accept workers’ fatalities as a cost of doing business.
“Fines do not ensure that offenders restructure their workplaces to comply with OH&S standards. Fines do not have an impact on the behaviour of the responsible managers.
“Fines do not ensure any disciplinary action is ever taken against those who should be responsible and accountable. Fines do not require managers to review their systems of work or operations so the offence will not recur.
“Corporations and employers must not be allowed to continue the game of probability with workers lives with only a monetary sanction as their penalty.”