Union News

Three workers killed in Victoria on one day

In the past week there have been two incidents in which three workers were killed. The VTHC extends our sincerest condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of these workers. These fatalities bring the number of workers killed in Victoria since January 1 to ten.

The first fatality occurred last Thursday morning, February 20. A man in his 40's was crushed while unloading a shipping container at a Campbellfield business. It has been reported that he was unloading stone slabs at the time of the incident. Emergency services attempted to free the man, but he was crushed to death by the slabs. A second worker, also involved in the incident, was taken to hospital with injuries. WorkSafe was notified and is investigating. WorkSafe media release

The second incident has had and will continue to have wide media coverage: the driver, a 54-year-old from Canberra and pilot, a 49-year-old from Castelmaine, were killed when the when the Sydney to Melbourne XPT diesel locomotive and five carriages derailed at Wallan, about 45km north of the city, on Thursday night. Eleven of the train's 153 passengers were injured, luckily, none seriously.

Investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau spent Saturday examining the scene of the derailment, looking at the maintenance of the train and railway as well as signalling data. Work to remove the wreck has begun with reports that pieces of the train will be transported to Sydney for examination. Three cranes began the work on Sunday, with the clear up expected to take days.

In a statement issued on Friday, RTBU Secretary Mark Diamond said the union was providing support to members who were on the train and who have been affected by this tragedy. He said, "The RTBU had serious concerns about the state of the main line track between Melbourne and Sydney for many years. It is important that safety authorities conduct a full and thorough investigation of the particular circumstances of this derailment."

On Sunday RTBU Victoria Secretary Luba Grigorovitch said Australia’s rail community had been in mourning since Thursday evening. “Our members are hurting, and our hearts go out the families and friends of the two workers who were killed,” Ms Grigorovitch said. “But along with our grief, the rail community is also angry at the Federal Government for its failure to invest in a safe and reliable 21st century interstate rail network."

In her statement, Ms Grigorovitch outlined a number of issues ascertained by the union, including that on or around February 3, a truck collided with an ARTC power cable feeding the Wallan signal box, starting a fire. That fire left the signals inoperable along a section of the rail line. However, the line continued operating at full speed, under pilot to navigate the XPT through the affected section. While ARTC rules allow this, the MTM and VLINE  impose an automatic speed restriction of 25kmh.

Ms Grigorovitch said that it appeared that there were a range of likely contributing factors to the derailment This view is shared by Rail Futures Institute president John Hearsch who told the ABC the investigation would likely find a range of factors contributed to the accident. But according to Ms Grigorovitch, “The RTBU believes, however, that if ARTC imposed the same speed restrictions under pilot that are applied by MTM and V/Line, the incident may have been avoided.”

Ms Grigorovitch added that the derailment also highlighted the systemic neglect of interstate and regional rail infrastructure. “The Melbourne-Sydney rail line should be the jewel in the crown of Australia’s interstate rail network. Instead, it’s known within the industry as the ‘goat track’ because it is in such bad condition."
Read more: RTBU Statement and media release, ABC news online

Ask Renata

Hello Renata,

This is a bit of a strange query. Some of our office staff members have complained that their toilet doesn't have natural light because there are no windows or skylights. A manager was in there recently when the lights went off and they said they experienced anxiety. I raised the matter with my employer but the response was that it would be too expensive to put in skylights. This was explained to the staff but some of them are still insisting that the employer should address the issue despite the cost involved. What do you suggest?  

IF the current design of the toilet satisfies the building requirements in the  Building Code (ie for ventilation and light, etc – and this is a technical document and not my area of expertise unfortunately), then there is nothing more that can really be done, as the legislation (the OHS Act and regulations) does not mandate natural light. Clause 49 of the Workplace Amenities and Work Environment Compliance Code states:

Toilets need to be:

  • fitted with a hinged seat and lid
  • provided with adequate lighting and ventilation
  • clearly marked
  • fitted with a hinged door capable of locking from the inside on each cubicle
  • designed to enable emergency access
  • located separately from any other room by a soundproof wall or by a separate entrance
  • separated from any other room by an airlock

So unfortunately, even though it would be better for the toilet to have natural light, a window, etc, it seems like it is compliant, so the employer’s position that it would be too costly to change has to be accepted – it is not ‘reasonably practicable’. So there is not much point in insisting.. the current design is compliant.

Staff members need to understand that the OHS legislation does not go into many specifics, but seeks to ensure that the workplace, and the amenities are safe and without risks to health - so far is is reasonably practicable.

To check the requirements and get a link to the code, see this page on Toilets.

If you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.

International Women's Day, 2020 events

March 8 is International Women's Day, and there are a number of union-based and broader activities being organised:

  • Saturday February 29: International Sisterhood Workshop.
    The VTHC's Migrant Workers Centre and We Are Union Women are jointly presenting a FREE workshop to celebrate International Women's Day, 2020, and provide an opportunity for migrant women from any cultural background to join the celebration and conversation on rights at work, how to fight together against discrimination at work and in communities. Speakers include:

    - Stephanie Rabusa, union organiser at the CFMEU
    - Putri Nazeri, union organiser at the United Workers Union
    - Hanna Poureisa, former Migrant Workers Centre organiser

    Free childcare is available - please request when booking! 

    When:
    Saturday February 29, 11 am - 2.30 pm (lunch provided)
    Where:
    Victorian Trades Hall, 54 Victoria St, Carlton South
    RSVP: Go to the Eventbrite page to book your place
    More information: ph 03 659 3516 or email Lavanya at lthavaraja@vthc.org.au

  • March 3: We Are Union Women's Conference 2020: Safe, Respected, Equal 
    Women play an essential role in society in both paid and unpaid caring work, and yet it is clear the system is rigged against us. At the 2020 We Are Union Women's Conference, we're bringing together unionists to discuss our upcoming 'Safe, Respected, Equal' campaign for working women.

    Across one day, we'll build campaign skills, workshop industrial and political changes needed to improve women's working lives and safety, and deep-dive into case studies of working women winning change around the world through collective action.

    When: Tuesday March 3, 9.30am to 3.30pm
    Where:
    Solidarity Hall, Victorian Trades Hall, 54 Victoria St, Carlton South
    Ticket price: $50 - General/Union member; $10 - Unwaged/Concession
    For more information and to register, click here

  • March 5: International Women's Day Rally and March 
    Due to the long weekend, this year's rally will be held on Thursday March 5. The organising committee invites everyone to attend the IWD Rally and march.

    When: Thursday March 5, 5.30pm - 7pm.
    Where: State Library, corner Latrobe and Swanston Streets, CBD
    More information: Rally and March

  • March 5: IWD Rally After Party
    The VTHC We Are Women team is hosting an IWD After Party
    When: Thursday March 5, 7pm
    Where: in the ETU Ballroom, Victorian Trades Hall, 54 Victoria St, Carlton South.
    More information: After party - note: for women and non-binary folks only

Australian cleaners take up offer to clean up ship, despite union warnings

The United Workers Union (UWU) has said in a media release that it is extremely concerned that NSW school cleaners employed by services giant Broadspectrum have been approached by supervisors via site visits and text messages requesting they go to Japan to clean the Diamond Princess. The unions says the approach has caused confusion with many members being told that it would be to clean ‘the coronavirus ship’ but with Broadspectrum now saying the offer is to clean a quarantine station for Diamond Princess crew.

Text messages sent to school cleaners said: "A really great opportunity has arrived. Would you like to earn some good money … all you need is a valid passport to go to Japan and clean for 6 days."

Company supervisors have been unable to provide information on safety measures: whether they would receive specialist training or equipment, where they would stay, how much they would be paid, what would happen with quarantine (both with Federal Government and NSW Department of Education requirements) and what it would mean for their school community. The union has texted all Broadspectrum members with the message: "United Workers Union would not recommend accepting this offer. This is specialised cleaning, requiring extra training and equipment. We also don’t know what the health and safety rules are in Japan so would be concerned that appropriate steps are not being taken to protect workers."

Today's Age newspaper has reported however, that at least five people have taken up a job offer to clean a quarantine centre for the crew of the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.

A UWU delegate said he was approached to work 15 consecutive days followed by 30 days in Australia without work for a total of between $5000 and $6000. "If you did go you'd only be making just over a grand in profit," the delegate said. "I'm not putting myself at risk for a grand."
Read more: UWU media releaseCleaners taking up cruise job offer in Japan stand to make $1000 profit The Age; More information on the Covid-19 disease

QLD: 'black lung' cases increase

The Queensland Miners’ Union has said the new ‘one stop shop’ and confidential hotline announced by the Queensland Government this week is a welcome initiative to support the growing number of Queenslanders affected by mine dust lung diseases.

With the number of confirmed cases of mine dust diseases including Black Lung climbing to 133, current and former mineworkers need support to navigate the complex range of services available, said CFMEU Mining and Energy Queensland President Stephen Smyth. “The re-emergence of Black Lung after 30 years has been a wake up call and a lot of work has had to be done to overhaul systems for prevention, diagnosis, treatment and compensation,” he said.
Read more: CFMEU media release. ABC news online.

Asbestos news

Warrnambool: Build Aware inspections
Joint teams from four government agencies have conducted nearly 160 inspections on building sites around Warrnambool over the past week. The inspections were Warrnambool’s part in the statewide Build Aware campaign which has done over a thousand site visits over the past five years, educating and advising builders, contractors and tradies on their legal responsibilities.

This time, the agencies found most building sites are complying with the laws protecting the environment, workplace safety and the community. Build Aware has run three times a year since 2016 in city and regional locations and aims to ensure compliance on residential, industrial and commercial building sites. Issues covered included fall prevention and scaffolding safety, management of asbestos waste, and mechanical plant and equipment.

Officers from the key Victorian government agencies that regulate the building sector – the Victorian Building Authority (VBA), WorkSafe Victoria (WSV), Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) and Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) – formed teams to carry out targeted inspections over five days in the Warrnambool region.
Read more: The National Tribune

More information on Asbestos: In the workplace and In the Home.

International union news

South Korea: Jockey’s death spark protests
On November 29, 2019, Moon Joong-won, a 40-year-old jockey working at the Busan Gyeongnam horse racetrack, killed himself. In a suicide note, Moon said that ongoing abuse and corruption by the Korea Racing Authority (KRA) was the reason he committed suicide. Moon is the seventh worker from the same racetrack to kill themselves in the past 10 years. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions took on his case as another example of the toxic and deadly workplace culture in South Korea where many works endure years of overwork and intolerable working conditions. The KCTU has held a number of major protest actions in the past couple of months (including this one on January 17), and last weekend, tens of thousands workers demonstrated outside the racetrack. Read more: The Korea Times. Source: AAWL mininews

Global: Covid-19 outbreak affects workers around the world
The outbreak of the new type of Coronavirus, now known as Covid-19, first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, has now infected tens of thousands of people and killed hundreds. While the vast majority of cases are in China, many countries around the world have now been affected. The main effects for workers have been felt in China, whether from being made to work too fast to build hospitals, to not having enough protective equipment or resources, or facing loss of wages due to ongoing shutdowns of workplaces. In Australia, the government keeps extending the travel ban, and the fear of contagion has led to such an increase of racist acts against Chinese looking people, including people being kicked out of their apartments, that the Australian Chief Medical Officer has felt compelled to make a public statement against racism.
Read more: Construction workers under pressure as more cities rush to build hospitals China Labour Bulletin. Chief medical officer demands end to racism towards Chinese-Australians over coronavirus  SBS news. Source: AAWL mininews

Canada: Union calls for crackdown on corporate safety crimes
Major corporations and their directors must be held accountable for deadly workplace crimes, a Canadian union has said. The United Steelworkers union (USW) was commenting after criminal charges were filed against the former CEO of a Brazil-based multinational mining company one year after the Minas Gerais dam collapse that killed more than 250 people.

“Workers need to know that disasters like this are going to be answered with the strongest punitive measures possible,” said USW national director Ken Neumann. “The death of 250 villagers and workers in one incident is catastrophic. But no worker should be at risk when they go to work, and no community should be put in harm’s way by corporate negligence.” Neumann added: “Workers across Canada have been killed at a rate of about 1,000 a year, and companies have mostly evaded criminal prosecution by agreeing to pay fines. Killing workers should never be part of the cost of doing business.”

USW is calling on provincial attorneys general and labour ministers in every jurisdiction to properly enforce the 2004 amendments to Canada’s Criminal Code, which were meant to hold corporate executives criminally accountable for workplace deaths and injury. The amendments, known collectively as the Westray Law, were unanimously endorsed by the federal parliament more than 10 years after the 1992 Westray Coal mine explosion in Nova Scotia, which killed 26 workers. “Police and Crown attorneys must be educated, trained and directed to apply the Westray amendments,” Neumann said. “And there must be greater co-ordination and protocols among regulators, police and Crowns so that health and safety regulators are trained to reach out to police when there is a possibility that Westray amendment charges are warranted.”

On 14 February the union joined the family of Olivier Bruneau in condemning the decision by Ottawa police to close the investigation into the construction worker’s death and to rule out criminal charges. The 24-year-old carpenter was crushed by a massive block of ice.
Read more:USW news release and related news release. Source: Risks 935

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