Every year the ILO sponsors the World Day for Health and Safety At Work on 28 April 2009. This day is a day of remembrance for most countries where people reflect on those who have died at work in the previous year. Each year, these days are full of tears and grief, and motivation for safety professionals to work harder.
When handled well these are days of sorrow and dignity. Sadly, occasionally, these days are hijacked by the trade union movement in their industrial campaigns that only indirectly relate to workplace safety.
A couple of years ago, at the height of the union campaign to oust the Howard Government in Australia, the Victorian Trades Hall spokesperson, Brian Boyd, spoke passionately in support of the campaign. His political calls did not relate to the memories of the dead workers who people were there to remember and mourn.
For 2009, the Construction Forestry, Mining and Energy Union has imposed their campaign against the Australia Building & Construction Commission on the World Day for Health and Safety At Work, or Workers’ Memorial Day, whichever matches one’s political leanings. This demeans the original intention of the day and should be criticised.
The tenuousness of the ABCC campaign and safety is discussed elsewhere but it is inappropriate for the CFMEU Construction Division National Secretary, Dave Noonan, to link in a media statement the two issues:
“Each week on an Australian construction sites, statistics show that a worker will die. We cannot let this go on for another week let alone for another five years. Construction workers and unions are today making a stand for safety. If that means we have to have stop work meetings for safety or refuse to cooperate with the ABCC, then that’s what we’ll do.”
It is believed that there are no restrictions for meetings to discuss OHS matters on construction sites but there are conditions for union right-of-entry on OHS matters as listed below. The processes seem reasonable and are similar to the processes applied for several years in the Victorian jurisdiction.
It is disappointing to the OHS profession to link safety with a non-safety-related industrial campaign. What is more disturbing is the misuse of a memorial day to dead workers for political ends.
According to the website of the ABCC:
“1. A union official must have one of the following valid reasons to enter your site:
- Investigate, on reasonable grounds, a suspected breach of the Workplace Relations Act 1996, a collective agreement, an award, an AWA or an order of the AIRC
- Hold discussions with members or workers eligible to be members of the union
- Perform inspections and functions under an OHS law *
If none of these reasons apply you have the right to refuse entry.”
“Union officials must comply with your reasonable requests about:
- The rooms or areas they may use on the site for holding discussions
- The route they should take to access those rooms or areas
- Occupational health and safety”
* Under the Workplace Relations Act 1996 union officials who enter a worksite for OHS purposes must hold a valid federal permit, produce that permit on request, exercise those rights during working hours and comply with reasonable OHS requirements.