WA unions win new industrial manslaughter law

Photo: Alex Salmon

About 2000 people gathered at Solidarity Park on October 20 to support UnionsWA’s demand that the Legislative Assembly pass a new industrial manslaughter law, introduced in February.

It did so the next day, finally giving the state an industrial manslaughter law that strengthens penalties on companies which fail to ensure workers’ safety. The Work Health and Safety Bill 2019 will send employers to prison if a worker dies because safety and quality has been compromised.

The Fight for Life rally was organised a week after part of a glass ceiling at Curtin University collapsed, killing 23-year-old apprentice Johnnie Hatshorn and leaving two workers critically injured.

It was opened by Aboriginal elder Aunty Mingali, and addressed by Damian Clancy from the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) WA secretary Christy Cain and representatives from the Transport Workers Union, the Plumbing and Pipe Trades Employees Union Vic and WA and the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU).

ETU WA organiser Damien Clancy, who was at a nearby site on October 13, said there had been many warning about safety on the Lendlease site. He said Lendlease is known for its aggressive anti-union policies, telling WAtoday on October 13 that workers had spoken about their “concerns” about the project’s safety prior to the tragedy.

“Lendlease was well aware of an issue, to the point where they brought a surveyor out here last week to determine the levels of sag in the steel after they put about half of the glass up. They had reached their limit and hadn’t loaded all their glass. You’d think you’d stop then, wouldn’t you?”

The rally marched to the Western Australian Parliament chanting “Kill a worker, go to jail” and “Pass the bill”.

CFMMEU WA state secretary Mick Buchannan addressed the crowd saying: “Yet again, we saw the tragic death of a young man who had his whole life ahead of him. No-one goes to work, not to come home. We can’t say what specific failures occurred, but what we know is that the roof should never have collapsed.”

CFMMEU youth organiser Nathan Fisher said that such negligence should not be allowed in the industry “not in 2020”.

“Workers everywhere are hurting; workers everywhere are angry. I’m angry, because without knowing the results of the investigation, we all know that what happened [to Johnnie Hartshorn] was preventable … and the serious injuries and life-changing injuries to Ricky Isset were preventable.

“I’m angry because if someone is found negligent in that investigation, the punishment will not fit the crime.”

Peter Carter from the ETU spoke about a court case, which begun the previous week, looking into a February 2015 explosion at a substation at the Morley Galleria Shopping Centre in which Allen Cummins and Mathews Hutchins were killed.

“We all know that wheels of justice don’t turn around when workers are involved. But to have to wait five and a half years for a member of ours to get to court to get some form of justice and compensation is an indictment on the system.”

Hatshorn’s death was the 23rd workplace fatality on a construction site this year, about 19% of the 122 workplace deaths so far.

[This article was updated on October 22 following the passing of the new industrial manslaughter law. Videos of the speeches can be found on GL's Facebook page.]

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