Chaplain admonishes heartless bosses

A local Devonport chaplain writes to management on hearing of the companies decision to penalise workers for attending Friday's memorial service for Steve Piper and fallen comrades

There is seldom a circumstance less riveting and attention grabbing than the death of a person in our community.  I need to draw a comparison into some details attending the recently announced deaths of two fellow Australians.  One is the solider killed in this month of July in Afghanistan - the 17th soldier to die from the Australian Defence Forces contingent in this conflict.  The other is the death in the Melbourne docks of Stephen Piper, a wharf worker - the 16th wharf worker to die on the Australian waterfront in the past two decades and the third ultimate casualty in the first seven months of 2010.

The comparision becomes very stark and confronting when the details of the commemorative events for these two Australian citizens are compared.  The soldier is remembered in a fitting way with an expected military funeral, with dignitaries of the highest order.... The wharf worker, however, does not have that sort of honour.  Where the soldier is honoured by his fellow service personnel, the wharf workers are penalised because they seek to show their support for a dead workmate.  This man was not at war, but at work.  There was a major breakdown in safety somewhere on his shift.

As the employer of this man, your company has failed in its duty of care for this worker. It would appear that this is not an isolated incident at the workplace where the incident ocurred.  Your company has been very quiet in the public arena with respect to safety concerns in this situation.  What is even more distressing is the action taken by your company to discipline workers who showed their support for a fellow owerker today and attended the memorial service for Stephen Piper and the other 15 workers who have died on the waterfront in the last two decades.  This service was a moving tribute.  It was a fitting appeal by workers to draw attention to the lack of safety developmetns wehre these are  long overdue...

As a chaplain, I am disheartened and amazed by the heartlessness of your company's decision to penalise workers attending the memorial service for fellow workers who have died on the job.  Such lack of feeling and concern for workers would appear to indicate a breakdown in decency in the workplace and flies in the face of any comments that may express concern and care for the deceased and their families...

At the memorial service, the emphasis was on safety.  There was an expectation that this would be a major focus by the industry immediately. The cost benefit that counts to the workers will be measured in lives saved, and families not shattered by tragedy.  It appears to me that this can only occur with a collaborative approach from workers and management.  Unfortunatley, your company's stance on this matter seems to be anything but collaborative.  This needs a drastic review by your company if the tragedies of waterfront deaths are to cease.

John McMath

Chaplain, East Devonport Primary School