The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) is calling for better regulation of the pearl diving industry after Paspaley Pearling Company was today issued with criminal charges over the death of pearl diver Jarrod Hampton off the Kimberley coast of Western Australia in 2012.
WorkSafe charged Paspaley with failing to provide and maintain a safe working environment for its employees following the death of Mr Hampton, 22, on just his second day of work as a drift diver.
Jarrod Hampton, Photo: Facebook
Paspaley Pearls now faces a maximum penalty of $200,000 in an industry that brings in more than $100 million a year for the family-owned company.
MUA Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray said it was still unclear why Paspaley and other pearl diving companies are allowed to self-regulate when the rest of the commercial diving sector - deep sea offshore, scientific and onshore – have proper set rules on work standards and safety.
“All members of the MUA again pass on our heart-felt condolences to the Hampton family, who have been waiting several years for the outcome of this investigation,” Mr Bray said.
“The WorkSafe investigation again highlights the lack of regulation in the pearl diving industry and we don’t understand why the company has been able to get away with this for so long.
“Mr Hampton’s death could have been avoided with appropriate training mechanisms set down by regulation but the pearling industry has no rules attached because they are allowed to self-regulate.
“Quite clearly self-regulation does not work - there have been other deaths and plenty of instances of injury caused by poor safety standards and work practices.
“It is part of the cowboy culture of pearl diving – one which the company appears to embrace.”
“There needs to be an inquiry into why the pearling industry has been allowed to self-regulate and the government and its agencies should bring them into line with everyone else.
“The MUA also questions why this investigation has taken so long, particularly as other young, inexperienced pearl divers were potentially being put at risk in the meantime.”
MUA Occupational Health and Safety Organiser Linda Morich said it was time the industry was cleaned up.
“They don’t want to come into line with the rest of the industry for safety and regulation - it’s only pearling which escapes,” Ms Morich said.
“Not only is this a tragedy which could have been avoided but it is now more than two years since a Four Corners investigation shone a spotlight on the pearl diving industry in the wake of Mr Hampton’s death and still nothing has been done.
“Following Mr Hampton's death, the Western Australian Government indicated it would review the pearling industry's safety guidelines and that process remains on hold.
“Serious questions about the adequacy of rescue equipment, safety procedures and training in the industry are yet to be properly answered.