BY RUTH RATCLIFFE
DARWIN — "We come to work standing, walking and talking, but with the current safety conditions, we could leave work in a pine box", the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) organiser Alan Paton, told Green Left Weekly.
Workers on Darwin's biggest construction site, the Barclay Mowlem-managed Mitchell Centre, are on strike against the company neglect of occupational health and safety standards. The workers took action on January 20, after a metal gate fell six stories, missing a worker by 50 centimetres.
Initially, the action was a 24-hour strike to demand better safety conditions. However, on January 22 more than 150 workers rallied outside Parliament House and voted against complying with an Industrial Relations Commission recommendation that they return to work.
Last year, the Mitchell Centre site was closed by workers for 48 hours following concerns over unstable scaffolding. Workers also report inadequate access to toilets and drinking water.
Seventy per cent of workers on site are subcontractors who are not considered "workers" under the NT Work Health Act and are therefore not eligible for workers' compensation; they have to take out their own insurance.
Following the January 22 rally, the NT Labor government announced a review of the definition in the act. The review will be conducted by a working group of government, union and industry representatives.
A picket has been established outside the site in central Darwin. ETU, Construction, Forestry and Mining, Engineering Union and Australian Manufacturing Workers Union banners adorn the picket. The Socialist Alliance has offered its solidarity to the workers.
Paton told GLW that the workers have received strong support from passers-by and local businesses, which have donated food and drink. As well as demanding workers' compensation coverage for subcontractors and better health and safety conditions on NT building sites, the Mitchell Centre workers are also demanding payment for work lost due to unsafe conditions, the portability of long service leave, more Work Health inspectors on building sites, the establishment of a redundancy fund for construction workers and that the provisions NT's labour laws match those of the other states and territories.
From Green Left Weekly, January 29, 2003.
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