On November 27, early in the morning, Jorge Castillo-Riffo was found on the scissor lift at the new Adelaide Hospital construction site. He had been crushed against a beam and died the following day.
Castillo-Riffo cared about his fellow workers and was diligent about Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) at his work site. About 1400 construction workers walked off the site and did not return to work until the following Monday.
Working Life reported Aaron Cartledge, the Secretary of the South Australian Branch of Jorge’s union, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, as saying: “He was a good member, very politically-savvy and politically-educated from Chile and from the struggle against the fascists and Pinochet.
“He was always a good bloke to have on a job because you could have a good yak with him and he got what the union was about. He was a socialist and active in encouraging other lads to join the union.
“He was a great one to spot an injustice on the job, but he didn’t just sit there and moan about it. He would set about fixing it, and he got results.
“He didn’t just bugger about waiting for time to pass; he was a very busy bloke. He always liked to have a chat about politics and he could see parallels with why he left Chile and the direction the construction industry is going here.
“He would say that in his country they also had secret police, secret interrogations you were not allowed to tell anyone about, people were sent to jail. He said people didn’t realise that was how it starts.”
In a statement his family, friends and workmates said: “Jorge was an honest, loyal, caring friend and family man who believed that all workers should have safe working conditions.
He worked, lobbied and agitated for justice in the workplace. He especially looked after the younger workers and made sure they had safe work equipment.
“When a fellow worker was injured badly in a work site fall some years ago, Jorge spent hours every day for more than a year helping him recover.
“Jorge was a man of fun, humour and compassion, loved by all. He gave his support to refugees, Aborigines, the Cuban struggle and more. His death should never have happened. His life will never be forgotten. In his name we say: ‘the struggle continues’.”
Longtime WHS advocate, Andy Alcock wrote a scathing letter to the Advertiser (that was never published) comparing the workplace death of cricketer Phil Hughes with that of Jorge.
On December 9, more than 300 friends, family and workmates gathered to pay their respects to a member of the community who was loved for his care for others and his great sense of fun.
The ceremony began with a smoking ritual from the local Kaurna people. Aboriginal elder Steve Goldsmith spoke of Jorge’s support and encouragement for indigenous people, especially the young describing Jorge as a warrior.
His family and neighbours spoke of Jorge’s love of nature, cooking and the little parrot he had taught to speak Spanish. His partner, Pam Gurner-Hall told us his last words to her were what he always said as he left for work: “I love you”. Chillingly her last words to him were “Be careful on the scissor lift”.
An enquiry into Jorge’s death is continuing and Pam hopes this will lead to a coronial inquest.
Comrade Jorge Castillo-Riffo. Presente.