Wharfies demand national safety code for maritime industry

About 60 stevedores and supporters gathered outside the headquarters of Shipping Australia in South Bank, Melbourne, on October 30 to demand that employers agree to introduce a national safety code in the industry.

Last month, 56-year-old Newcastle stevedore Greg Fitzgibbon was killed at work when he was crushed by a 20-tonne pallet. The day after this tragic death, the big stevedoring companies, led by employer organisation Shipping Australia, moved to block the introduction of a national code of safety on the waterfront.

The national code of safety would ensure that strict industry standards are adhered to in order to prevent deaths and injuries.

Maritime Union of Australia Victoria secretary Kevin Bracken addressed the crowd and highlighted the life-and-death consequences that make clear the need for a code: “We have lost three members at Appleton Docks since 2003. If there was a code of practice in place, these deaths wouldn’t have happened. Shipping Australia have said that they do not support a code of practice that requires consultation with health and safety representatives. This is creating a very dangerous situation.”

Workers carried placards of comrades that had lost their lives on the job.

Bracken said the only thing preventing the employers and Shipping Australia from implementing the code is costs.

The bosses are putting profit before the lives of stevedores. This shows the true nature of the bosses and the capitalist system. Workers are just means toward the end goal of making money.

The Melbourne rally was one of several across Australia. The numbers present at the rallies were large considering the MUA did not call a stop work for the event. In Sydney more than 100 workers, including the family of the late Fitzgibbon, stormed the lobby of the Shipping Australia headquarters in anger. Protesters wrote “murderers” in chalk across the walls.

The MUA vow has vowed to continue the fight until a national code of practice is introduced.