Profits should never come before lives

This opinion piece appeared in the Brisbane Times on Thursday, 26 April under the heading “Too many workers are killed on the job in Australia” …

By Ros McLennan, General Secretary, Queensland Council of Unions

A fundamental right we all have is to go to work and come home at the end of our day alive and safe. But this fundamental right, fought for and won by workers and their unions over years of struggle, is under threat from forces determined to put profits before the lives of people.

The risk of death and injury at work is real for all workers, whether in construction, transport, agriculture or forestry, to teaching, nursing, arts and retail. The only thing that keeps workers as safe as they are is the constant vigilance and preparedness for action of workers and their unions.

This year we mark International Workers’ Memorial Day on Friday 27 April – a day where the community comes together to mourn for the dead and vow to fight for the living.

So far this year, 40 Australians have been killed at work. In 2017, there were 184 deaths at work Australia-wide, including 22 Queensland workers, according to Office of Industrial Relations figures. One worker killed is one too many.

While an unacceptable number of workers are killed on the job, many more are killed later from work-related illnesses. Last year 60 Queenslanders died from their work-related exposure to asbestos while Black Lung — long thought banished from Australia’s mines — has returned, ruining lives across the state.

In Australia, the Turnbull LNP Government seems more concerned with preventing workers from flying such radical symbols as the Eureka Flag than with stopping worker deaths.

In fact, it has gone out of its way, through the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), to prevent worker representatives from accessing worksites and from advocating for worker safety across the nation. The ABCC has failed to prosecute even one employer for workplace death since its inception.

Queensland’s Labor Government has led the way by being the first state to introduce industrial manslaughter laws. These laws will see bosses and corporations who kill workers with unsafe practices held accountable with significant gaol sentences and large fines. These are laws fought for and won by unions and their members.

Despite its zeal for regulating workers and their unions, the Turnbull LNP Government hasn’t shown the same enthusiasm in preventing deaths on our roads, abolishing the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. Last year in Australia 65 workers in transport, postal and warehousing died — the single largest category of worker deaths and a 14 per cent increase on 2016.

The right to safe workplaces is one of the most enduring achievements of the union movement. Despite the attacks by the federal LNP and big business, unions and their members will never stop protecting worker safety.

We stand for the right of all workers to raise job safety concerns without retaliation of prosecution and for the freedom of all workers to join their union and collectively bargain for decent pay, safe work, secure jobs and a better future.

It’s time to change the rules.

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