The Mining and Energy Division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) released a statement on October 28 calling for tougher laws to hold employers accountable for workers’ deaths on site.
This follows reports that mining company Anglo American has pleaded guilty to failing to meet their safety obligations, causing the death of Paul McGuire.
The maximum penalty is a fine of $550,000, but Anglo had been offered a deal of a fine of $100,000 and $15,000 in investigation costs.
Anglo American is one of the world’s largest mining companies, with headquarters in London and mining operations in Australia, South Africa and North and South America. Anglo American produces copper, platinum, diamonds, iron ore, manganese, coal and nickel and in 2015 recorded $23 billion in group revenue.
In May 2014, electrician Paul McGuire died while working at the Grasstree coalmine north-west of Rockhampton. McGuire’s workmates found him unconscious inside an enclosed part of the mine where he was performing maintenance work. It is believed McGuire had opened the hatch to the sealed longwall, breathed in poisoned air and died instantly.
CFMEU Mining and Energy Division Queensland district president Stephen Smyth said the deal offered to Anglo American is clear evidence of the disgraceful system where employers get away with cutting corners at the expense of workers’ safety.
“It’s disgraceful Anglo was offered a dirty deal that saw negligent culprits walk free while a young family mourns at the loss of their father,” he said.
“We need immediate action from the Queensland government to strengthen punitive action towards employers who break the law. A petty fine doesn’t even come close to bringing justice to a grieving family — employers need to know negligence will not be tolerated.”
The CFMEU plans to launch the “Kill a worker, go to jail” campaign in response to McGuire’s death and numerous recent deaths in construction sites across the country.
Smyth said: “In situations where employers are found guilty of negligence resulting in a worker’s death, a sentence with prison time must be given. We need strong action when duty of care is so clearly neglected.
“The government cannot stand by and continue to let this happen — they are giving unscrupulous employers like Anglo the green light to disregard workers’ safety.
“Employers need to understand that if they kill a worker, they will go to jail.”
There have been five deaths in the past three weeks in the construction industry, with the death toll likely to climb in the pre-Christmas rush. The number of workers killed in Victoria so far this year has already surpassed the death toll last year and new statistics suggest the worst is still to come. Twenty-four workers have died on the job in Victoria so far this year compared with 19 workplace deaths last year.
The Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and the Registered Organisations bills, if passed, could result in one million workers having fewer freedoms and legal rights than people who commit crimes. This legislation passed the House of Representatives on October 18 and there is fear that if it passes the Senate, there will be more workplace deaths, particularly in the construction industry.
It is critical that unions go on the offensive against these attacks and begin to politically educate and train new layers of workers to become militant trade union activists. Workers need to join their unions and trade unions need to act in the best interests of their members, which does not always line up with Labor Party politics.
To strengthen and grow the union movement, union officials and organisers need right of entry and workers need the right to strike. If there is no political will in the ALP to deliver the goods, then it is time for the union movement to break away.