Gippsland power industry unionists met on February 20 to discuss a plan for rescuing the industry's occupational health and safety (OHS) standards after two deaths and one serious injury in the power industry late last year.
The cross-union meeting of delegates packed out the Morwell Football Ground clubhouse and voted to endorse a "model OHS agreement" to be pushed on the various companies operating in the area's massive power industry.
Gippsland Trades and Labour Council secretary John Parker told Green Left Weekly that the problems have largely arisen since the privatisation and break-up of the State Electricity Commission (SEC) in the early 1990s, which was carried out by Labor and Liberal governments. Parker said the private companies now operating the industry have not kept up the infrastructure maintenance necessary for safety and, in the absence of a central coordinating body such as the SEC, there is no-one to take final responsibility for OHS issues.
Parker cited one of the 2006 industrial deaths as a case in point. Australian Manufacturing Workers Union delegate Rick Gauci was killed at Yallourn last October when an old cable was brought back into use without being tested. The cable snapped and dropped the steel beam onto Gauci.
Parker said that he wants to see the introduction of "a red card induction system like in the construction industry". The model OHS agreement calls for a strict system of safety inductions for all workers in the industry to be regulated by the issuing of cards to workers who have been inducted, and making sure that workers do not enter sites without a card. Under the model agreement, union training would be given preference for site OHS representatives.
Parker also blamed the Work Choices legislation for the poor health and safety system. He said that the industry sees a lot of "indirect bullying" because many workers are casual, and now have far less job security under Work Choices. He pointed out that if an OHS representative speaks up, it is likely they will not be able to find work in the area again, and may have to travel the 140 kilometres to Melbourne for work.
The delegates' meeting voted for unions to organise a power industry safety forum with the power companies, Worksafe and the major contractors in the industry to reach an agreement on OHS.