Unionists rally for manslaughter laws



SYDNEY — On October 22, 500 delegates from four trade unions crammed into Trades Hall to hear reports into the death of a young worker on a building site and the campaign to introduce industrial manslaughter laws in NSW.

Most delegates were from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU). Others were members of the Communications, Plumbing and Electrical Union (CEPU) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU).

Joel Exner was a 16-year-old plumber's apprentice who was killed on October 16. He had been on the job for only three days. He fell through a hole in a roof onto concrete 12 metres below. He wasn't wearing a safety harness.

Exner was sent onto the roof with a gang of other apprentices to remove plastic sheets. They were required to walk along 0.5-metre-wide walkways, up to 15 metres from the ground. No handrails or harnesses were supplied.

Exner and the other first-year apprentices had not been given a proper safety induction and their employer hadn't even filed insurance forms for the new inductees.

Exner's death brought back memories of the death of Dean McGoldrick, a 17-year-old killed on a Sydney building site in similar circumstances in February 2000. His employer was just fined $20,000.

Speakers at the meeting claimed that not much had changed in the building industry since McGoldrick's death and that young apprentices were most at risk, as many had not been taught the dangers involved in the work. The meeting was told that on average, a worker is killed at work every week in NSW.

CFMEU and other union officials at the meeting pledged to continue the fight to introduce industrial manslaughter legislation in NSW.

CFMEU state secretary Andrew Ferguson told the meeting: "We want a law that says if a boss ignores safety standards and is responsible for a death, they can go to jail, as you can go to jail if you drive a car and kill a pedestrian."

AMWU state secretary Paul Bastian said that under the current laws a worker responsible for the death of a co-worker would be jailed, while a boss responsible for the death of a worker through poor adherence to safety standards would receive a fine.

The meeting also heard from relatives of workers killed, as well as a number of delegates who had witnessed work mates killed as a result poor safety standards.

WorkCover was criticised for being unable to implement safety standards on work sites, only carrying out investigations after someone has been killed.

The delegates unanimously endorsed a motion for all Sydney construction industry unionists to stop work on October 27 and march on the NSW parliament to demand laws that impose jail sentences for bosses who are slack on workplace safety. Similar stop-work meetings will be held simultaneously in Gosford, Wollongong and Newcastle.

From Green Left Weekly, October 29, 2003.
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