CFMEU - Mining and Energy Division
Time company bosses were called to account for industrial manslaughter
Pike River Disaster judgement underlines ACTU’s call for action on workers deaths
Our Union is backing the ACTU’s call for the introduction of industrial manslaughter laws made on the 28 April to mark International Workers Memorial Day when workers throughout the world paid their respects to the thousands of people killed on the job every year.
This call for company bosses to be called to account for often shocking and criminal negligence that contributes to the unnecessary loss of workers lives is consistent with what our Union has been advocating for years now.
The fact is that throughout the history of mining in Australia more than 4,000 coal miners have been killed at work. The toll is much higher if we include the thousands more who later died as a result of their injuries and industrial diseases.
Our coal mining industry has suffered the worst industrial disasters in Australia’s history – from the 96 killed at Mount Kembla colliery, the 81 who perished in the Bulli mine disaster and the 75 men and boys killed at the Mount Mulligan mine.
Yet despite these disasters and the more recent tragedies at Box Flat, Kianga, Appin, Moura No.4 and Moura No.2, not a single company boss in the history of Australia has ever been imprisoned in any of the instances that took the lives of more than 4,000 coal miners.
The paltry legal consequences that company Directors have faced for their negligence that cause workers deaths is again highlighted by the damning judgement in New Zealand’s Courts that found Pike River Coal Ltd (in receivership) guilty of nine health and safety failures that led to the loss of 29 coal miners lives at that mine.
Judge Jane Farish released her interim decision in mid-April convicting the now bankrupt company. The Judge found failures by Pike River Coal relating to three charges were "causative of the explosion and the subsequent deaths of those men who perished", she said. "In this case, there were fundamental breaches of the Health and Safety in Employment Act which led to the unnecessary deaths of 29 men".
As this column goes to press, the Judge is yet to hand down penalties. Our Union colleagues in New Zealand have called for the maximum sentence for those responsible for the crimes that led to the loss of the 29 Pike River miners.
Here in Australia, the ACTU has pointed out that 374 people died from traumatic workplace incidents in 2010-11 – and at least 10 times that many die from illness and diseases related to their work each year. This has reinforced the Union movement’s determination to call the corporate bosses to greater account under the law.
Our Union has a record second to none in fighting for improvements in mine health and safety. But it is a continual struggle that is waged every day on the job.
We continually face aggressive employers who see our tight health and safety laws and regulations as an impediment to their drive to cut costs and boost production. In some cases today mining bosses are still pushing for greater self-regulation and engage in actions designed to undermine and punish local and District Check Inspectors.
Let nobody be under any illusions, undermining safety laws and regulations was the road mine bosses took in New Zealand that directly led to Pike River.
Our challenge is to defend our mine health and safety standards. Our politicians responsibility is to ensure the highest possible health and safety standards and regulations are enshrined in law.
The time has come for company bosses to be put on notice that criminal negligence leading to the unnecessary loss of workers lives will no longer be tolerated. It is time for industrial manslaughter laws in Australia.
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