by Peter Curtis AEU
7,000 workers marched on the Victorian Parliament, and a further thousand in Geelong, calling on the Brumby ALP Government to pressure their federal counterparts to make the best Occupational Health and Safety laws possible through the national ‘harmonisation’ process. The federal government should be taking the best laws that each state has to offer if they are to set a new national minimum standard.
September the First, 2009, redraws the unions’ line in the sand. No way will we allow a reduction in our right to safe work places and sites. No way can any worker allow, or tolerate, any diminishing of our right to participate in making our workplaces and worksites safer. Any concession to this bottom line would be defeat. We cannot allow the Victorian OHS Act to be watered down. Workers’ occupational health and safety and education are fundamental to the work of unions. OHS representatives are most effective when they are working with supportive mates and colleagues.
Rank and file Health and Safety delegates addressed the rally. Margaret, a teacher and OHS rep and a member of the Australian Education Union, has worked many years in Early Childhood and Special School settings. She informed the crowd that while teachers may not face the likelihood of very serious injury or being killed at work there were nevertheless very real health and safety issues for them also. Years of physical lifting, dealing with people’s problems and aggressive behavior are stressful and cumulative in their effects physically and psychologically.
Union officials marked the rally as the beginning of the campaign and promised the politicians that we would return. There will need to be even greater numbers next time. Brian Boyd of the Victorian Trades Hall spoke for all affiliates when he condemned any moves by politicians to water down our OHS laws. Healthy workplaces help make happier families and healthier communities; OHS is everyone’s business.
Maitea Medina, the courageous widow of Tony Medina, who died to young of asbestos related mesothelioma reminded us that what happens at work does indeed come home to our families. Maitea has five young children to raise. The damage that the James Hardy Corporation has inflicted on our whole community is of diabolical proportions. Directors knew what they were doing and were more concerned with covering their tracks. The men and women who direct corporations and business’, and all too often, compliant governments, continue to afflict not only ours, but our childrens’ health too. These ‘responsible corporate citizens’’ understanding of human worth is measured in dollars and cents alone.
A minute’s silence was held to pay respects for workers killed at work. Geoff Lawrence, Secretary of the ACTU, spoke of the 8,000 workers who die annually from work related deaths. The burden of which is born by families and friends. Adding that 200,000 are also injured and emphasising that we can “never stop fighting for occupational health and safety”. Martin Kingham (CFMEU) prompted us to ask what sort of world is it when a construction worker is more likely to die at work than one of our soldiers in a combat zone? Deaths and injuries have increased under the surveying eye of the ABCC ‘Construction Stasi’.
Improving health and safety is union and community business. Solidarity, dignity and justice are the work of generations in unions and communities; organising and campaigning for better working lives and community wellbeing. We cannot forget the courage and sacrifice of countless individuals, past and present, when we collectively defend our right to return home safe and well. We will need this determination if we are to stop this federal government’s determined pro-corporate agenda.
It is imperative now to foster a spirit of solidarity between unions and communities. Firstly, the campaign must be actively extended to all industries, both ‘white and blue collar’. Our health and safety is reduced to ‘risk management’ for the bosses. This means they will generally do what ever they can get away with. Abuse, accidents and deaths do not distinguish between occupations or favour some over others. OHS is everybody’s concern and is incumbent upon us all to build the campaign in each state and nationally if we are to stop this federal government and the corporations playing fast and loose with our lives and futures.