Sunday, January 13, 2008
Workers die for bosses' profit
Workers at the mine are employed on unAustralian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) which deny the union the right to enter the mine. In the absence of trained union health and safety reps, safety issues are dealt with by management alone.
Workers at the site raised 82 separate safety issues about two months ago, but according to McDonald “We couldn’t get near the place” because of AWA conditions.
The dead man was employed at the Cloud Break Mine, located near Newman, about 1200kms from Perth.
The mine is owned by Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group (FMG). Forrest briefly eclipsed Jamie Packer as Australia’s wealthiest man at the end of December, when the value of his one billion shares in FMG rose 8.1% (or by an extra $544 million) to $7.26bn. However, falls in share prices on Wall Street during January have since seen him drop back behind Packer.
The dead man was a young worker in his 20s who had been married only a week prior to the accident which claimed his life. It was only his second day on the job.
He was in a boom lift, or cherry picker, with another worker and was working the controls to get close to a building under construction.
They were about 40 metres off the ground when his head became wedged between the building and the controls on the cherry picker.
This meant that the other worker could not access the controls to lower the boom and free him.
According to Kevin Reynolds, WA secretary of the CFMEU, there was a manual override switch on the ground. There were three workers near the switch, but all were Section 475 visa workers recruited from Thailand who could not speak English and could not work out how to use the override switch.
It took over half an hour for the worker to be freed from the cherry picker, by which time he had died.
This is not the first time that FMG has come under fire over safety standards. Last March two workers were killed on the mine’s rail link project when they were confined to substandard accommodation during the approach of Cyclone George. Unions said then that the two should have been evacuated to a safer site.
Nor is it the first time unions have expressed concerns about safety issues relating to Section 457 visa workers with poor English skills. Normally, the concern is for the vulnerability of these workers themselves when they cannot read safety signs or are left unaware of their rights in respect of OHWS. The CFMEU has been in the forefront of winning struggles around the rights of such workers.
Tragically, in this case, the failure of the company to have an English-speaking operator on the ground as backup to the two workers on the cherry picker seems to have contributed to the fatality.
And it has just (January 17) been revealed that a major expansion in the employment of Section 457 visa workers in the mining industry is about to occur.
BHP Billiton has struck a secret agreement with the Immigration Department to bring in foreign tradespeople to work on its Pilbara iron ore operations. As many as 350 tradespeople could be imported by subcontractors working for the mining giant.
The CFMEU has described the deal as a major blow for job and training opportunities for local youths.
This will be a further threat to safety standards in the mining industry.
Not that this will worry the likes of Andrew Forrest.
He has impeccable ruling class credentials, being a descendant of the first Premier of WA, Sir John Forrest.
His parents own a Pilbara cattle station. He began his working life as a stock-broker and in his early 30s became CRO of Anaconda Nickel. In 2003 he took control of FMG, the largest iron ore miner in the Pilbara.
Just as his company extracts minerals from the soil of our nation, Forrest himself extracts surplus value (profit) from the labour power of our people.
The huge wealth that Forrest reaps from his workers, in a socialist system, could be placed at the disposal of society and used to improve the living conditions of workers. Free health, free education, better housing and public transport and higher wages and improved working conditions would all be possible if the wealth created by people was at their disposal rather than being used to make a handful of people obscenely wealthy.