Unions turn on Gillard over worker safety
Five years ago, Glen Viegas cut into a live wire as he worked on the construction of a shopping centre on the NSW Central Coast. That wire should have been disconnected. But it wasn’t. Glen was killed, and an hour and a half later, his wife Andreia had to pull back a white hospital sheet to identify her husband’s body.
Next time you see burly construction workers marching in a protest, consider stories like Andreia’s, and the fact that on average, one construction worker dies from work every week.
The experience of Andreia, and others like her, is what motivates trade unionists when we push for the best possible health and safety laws.
That’s why there’s growing alarm that federal and state governments appear to be shirking a once in a generation chance to introduce first rate health and safety.
The federal and state governments are preparing to commit to a seamless, national system, but if the current draft national laws are introduced safety standards would be undermined.
In NSW, for example, unions would lose the right to take independent court action when safety standards are breached – a power that’s been used sparingly but effectively since the 1940s.
It sounds minor, but you get a better idea of the gravity of this situation when you consider what’s happened with banks.
Concerned by the damage armed hold ups were wreaking on the mental health of bank tellers, the Finance Sector Union successfully prosecuted several big banks in 2002 for failing to provide a safe workplace.
That spurred the banks to invest tens of millions of dollars improving safety. Since then, the number of armed hold-ups has plummeted from 106 to only 20 last year.
Better workplace safety is in everyone’s best interests, from workers to their families to the broader community.
All Australian governments should take note; the trade union movement considers the introduction of national workplace safety laws an historic opportunity. We may have only one chance to get this right, and we will continue to campaign vigorously.
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