Wednesday, February 15, 2017

More than 500 of us rallied today to protest the lack of action over deaths at work in the construction industry.

Ironically, on the same day as we stood on the steps of Parliament House in SA, another worker, a pneumatic drill operator collapsed and died on a construction site at Flinders Uni.

The response of the federal government to the CFMEU's fight for the safety of its members has been to revive the construction industry gestapo, the ABCC, giving it increased powers and raising the financial penalties it can impose on the unions in this industry.

The focus of the rally was to strongly condemn the State Government and SafeWork SA for dropping charges against employers over the death at work at Jorge Castillo-Riffo.

Speeches were made, but it was Jorge's partner who delivered the most telling attack on the giant corporations that refuse to prioritise workers' safety. She related how she had been deprived of the chance to read a victim impact statement to the court now the charges had been dropped.  So instead, she read it to the rally to thunderous applause.

The tactic of stringing out “investigations” for as long as possible, and then dropping them at the last moment, is wearing thin.

We saw it used in the case of Brett Fritsch, who died on the Desal plant in June 2010.  One week before going to court, two years after his death, the charges were dropped, but ultimately reinstated under union pressure, resulting in convictions and fines.  But that was in July 2013, three years after Brett’s death.

Three days before Jorge’s employer was due to face the court, and 27 months after his death, the case is closed. It is closed largely because key employer witnesses refused to be interviewed, leaving a less-than-determined prosecutor with a “lack of evidence” capable of securing a prosecution.  It is closed because workers who wanted to be interviewed and to provide evidence were never interviewed.

On the one hand we have Master Builders and contractors putting workers under pressure to finish various stages of the job by a deadline created to maximise corporate profits.

On the other we have a “go-slow” by investigators and prosecutors designed to put the brakes on the wheels of justice to protect bosses’ profits from being paid out in fines.

Speed-ups and intensification of work and long hours and exhaustion for workers; dragging things out, continual obstructions and delays for the bosses.

No worker killed or injured on the job has had a giant “X” on their forehead to indicate that they will be the next to be maimed or killed.  Accidents don’t pre-select their victims.  It is a random happening and any person is as liable to be a victim as the next.

That’s why resistance to the pressures to cut corners in getting the job done “on time” can’t be random, or left to a few.

Sure, the unions in the construction industry are severely hampered by special laws and a special body designed to cripple them financially and to intimidate and discourage their officials.

But so long as the union officials are doing a reasonable job under difficult circumstances then shit sheets and smear campaigns need to put aside, and the closest ties maintained between those on the job and those trying to look after them.

Everyone needs to be in their appropriate union and creative ways found, if necessary, to circumvent the boss and the ABCC to ensure that the union has presence and influence on the job.

We don’t know when or where it will happen, but ultimately the tables will need to be turned on the bosses and the rights at work that have been lost in recent years restored and strengthened.

Then it will be time to crush the ABCC and not workers’ bodies.

Then there will be opportunity again to put daring back into struggle and daring back into winning.