By Ros McLennan, General Secretary, Queensland Council of Unions
International Workers’ Memorial Day (Sunday 28 April 2019) is a time to remember workers who have died, become ill or injured because of work and a chance to renew focus on preventing further fatalities, illness or injury at work.
The most effective way to keep workers safe is to promote secure jobs and give people access to their union representatives at work. That is why we need to change the rules: to deliver jobs workers can count on. We need jobs that deliver the confidence for workers to stand up and speak out when safety at work is at risk.
Unions and their members have fought for and won most of the laws that make employers do the right thing. These protections—hard won by unions—have seen the number of workplace deaths reduce by half in the past 15 years. However, even one worker dying is one too many.
In 2018, the preliminary data show there were 157 Australian workers killed at work, compared with 190 workers in 2017.
In Queensland, the Office of Industrial Relations reports that from March 2018 to February 2019 there were 39 confirmed work-related fatalities reported in Queensland, with 15 more deaths being investigated.
With 30 Australian workers already killed to date (21 March) this year, unions will always campaign for safer workplace practices and laws—especially as the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison LNP government has done all in its power to game the system against workers and their representatives.
For example, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC) have a terrible record of acting in the interests of big business or the LNP Government.
The ABCC hasn’t prosecuted one, single employer for a workplace death or injury. But it did try to ban the Eureka Flag. And it has threatened many workers with criminal charges just for standing up for safety at work.
At the same time, the LNP Government abolished the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal that protected truck drivers from being forced to the edge of safe driving and beyond. Hundreds have been killed in truck-related deaths since it was abolished and vehicle deaths remain the number one killer at work in Australia.
Employers have a duty of care to provide safe workplaces. However, we know some employers will cut corners—even when workers’ lives are at risk.
The best thing any worker and their workmates can do to keep safe at work is to stand up and speak out. But workers need to know their jobs are safe and they are protected when they come up against the power of an employer who doesn’t want to do the right thing.
Worker safety is under attack from many sides: bosses who promote insecure work—for example, labour hire, sham contracting, casualisation and underemployment; laws that increase the power of employers to intimidate, bully and threaten workers; and laws which curtail the rights of unions to protect their members. These attacks are designed to stop even the most courageous worker speaking out when their lives—or their workmates’—are at risk.
This is why changing the rules is so important to workplace health and safety. We must promote secure work. We must allow unions to protect their members by ensuring ready access to union officials at work and enabling workers to take industrial action when their safety is at risk.
We must hold negligent bosses who operate unsafe workplaces accountable with strong industrial manslaughter laws.
Queensland Unions helps workers suffering from work-related injuries by operating three services for the benefit of Queensland workers.
The Workers’ Compensation Information Service (ph 1800 102 166) is a free service for workers, unions and community organisations who are navigating Queensland’s workers’ compensation system. (You can find more information at https://www.queenslandunions.org/workers-compensation-advisory-service/ )
The QCU has also just launched a new independent support service to help Queenslanders experiencing work-related psychological injury.
The Workers’ Psychological Support Service is a free and confidential service available to any Queensland worker experiencing work-related psychological injury to connect them with appropriate assistance in existing community agencies (ph 1800 370 732 or visit the website at www.wpss.org.au for more information).
Statistics show police, teachers, health workers, fire fighters and defence personnel suffer the highest rates of work-related mental illness.
This service demonstrates the union movement’s commitment to the ongoing physical and mental health of workers, and their families, and ensuring those in need receive the right help.
The Workplace Health & Safety Representative Support Service is another new service that provides workplace health and safety representatives with the resources, training, and information they need to properly protect their workmates. This service stems from a critical recommendation in the Tim Lyons review into Workplace Health and Safety Queensland following the Dreamworld amusement park deaths.
The Review said there was clear evidence of the important role Health and Safety representatives (HSRs) play in improving and maintaining safety within the workplace.
We now have in place a state health and safety coordinator to ensure as many workplaces as possible have HSRs and to support HSRs to fulfil their role. Contact [email protected] for more information.
These initiatives demonstrate that we will not rest until every Queenslander comes home safe after day at work.
We know the fight is never won as long as one worker is injured. Every year unions and members hold a day of remembrance for workers who have died, been injured, or become ill because of their jobs.
This year, International Workers’ Memorial Day is Sunday, 28 April 2019.
We gather to mourn the deaths, injuries and illnesses that have occurred and vow to do everything we can to prevent any more.
We encourage workplaces to hold moments of silence to commemorate the workers who have fallen, or suffered illness, and work together to improve safety in their workplace.
International Workers Memorial Day is marked throughout the world. In countries where workers are unorganised, they have fewer protections and workplace deaths are at chronic levels.
2.3 million women and men around the world are killed by work-related accidents and injuries every year—or 6,000 deaths every day.
We can see right now, in the deaths of workers across the world what happens when big business has too much power and puts profits ahead of people. The is why we must change the rules for workplace health and safety.