NSW Premier Kristina Keneally expressed deep sorrow over the death of wharfie Stephen Piper and expressed her support for urgent safety reforms as thousands, including ACTU president Ged Kearney, MPs and chaplans attended services nationwide.
NSW Premier Kristina Keneally expressed deep sorrow over the death of wharfie Stephen Piper and the awful statistic of 3 deaths on Australian wharves in 5 months.
Speaking before nearly 400 maritime workers, their families, friends and dignitaries at the Sydney memorial, Ms Keneally, also pledged her support - and the NSW Government's - to the Maritime Union's campaign to achieve consistent safety guidelines and regulations right across the country.
The Premier was visibly moved as Mich-Elle Myers, MUA, read the email written by Fremantle wharfie Ash Huish, the message encapsulated in "No family should sit and wait at the end of the working day for a loved one who never returns". Ash's words were recited at every service around the country.
Unions leant their support headed by Unions NSW's Secretary Mark Lennon.
Wharfies and their families held up banners with the faces of 8 workers killed on the wharves in less than 10 years. One of those bore the smiling face of Nick Fanos, crushed to death at Port Botany in April. Nick's sister Maria bravely held up his banner. Later Sister Mary Leahy of Mission to Seafarers offered comfort for those grieving.
The Sydney service was repeated across the country, lead by the highly emotional and dignified funeral at the Springvale Cemetery on the outskirts of Melbourne.
Around 400 waterfront workers from Melbourne docks, Geelong and Western port, family and friends of Stephen Piper filled the Boyd Chapel to overflowing. A megaphone allowed those standing in the winter chill outside to hear the service and eulogies.
The mourners included ACTU President Ged Kearney and former MUA National Secretary John Coombs, arm in arm with his wife Gwen. Kearney subsequently sent out a press release calling for "workplace safety on Australian waterfronts to be overhauled to stem the mounting death toll among stevedoring workers".
MUA officals Garry Keane, came from Port Kembla, Steve Cumberlidge, and Trevor Munday from Qld, Victoria Branch officials Kevin Brackin, Dave Schleibs, Dave Cushion, Bob Patchett and Matt Purcell, ITF, joined National Secretary Paddy Crumlin for the service.
Also there was Steve's workmate Shayne Stephens.
“I worked side by side with Steve for three years," he said. "And I was by his side when he died."
Shayne was also by Steve’s side as pallbearer when his coffin was carried out of the chapel to the hearse.
Shayne was on the ground beside the truck at the time of his mate's death. He'd just turned away when he heard the crash of the 25 tonne steel beam came down. When he looked back Steve was gone. It all happened in a split second.
Steve and Shayne worked in gear store together for three years.
"There was only two of us," he said in his eulogy. "We had to work together closely. It didn't take long to be really good friends."
Shayne spoke of Steve's love of cars and his love for everything mechanical - how he'd fix a spreader in half and hour on his first job that would take others half a day.
"It was evident from the start he had really good work ethics," said Shayne. "He'd come back to work early if he was crook because he was passionate about what he did and he didn't want to ever let us down. He was an asset to me, he was an asset to the gear store and he was an asset to the company. He was so conscientious about what he did.
"I'd say 'Steve, it's almost 3 let's go'
And he'd go 'No I've got to finish this.'
He just couldn't put it down.
"Steve liked talking and so did I. He loved talking about everything - whatever was in the paper, whatever was happening at work. But mainly he spoke about his family. I've never come across someone as devoted as Steve was to his family. I'll miss you Steve."
The service was conducted to the backdrop of crows and cars - cars racing in the state championships at the adjoining Sandown motor circuit - the droning of Formula Ford, Formula Vee
Steve would have loved to have hear those cars someone mentioned.
He loved restoring cars and the hearse was led by his masterpiece Ford muscle car XW. He’d taken out the V8 motor and replaced with 460 big block.
Steve was adopted in New Zealand and went to kindergarten in Singapore. It was not until years later that he met his blood relatives and found they were petrol heads just like he was.
He ended up settling in Melbourne with his wife Barb and two children.
Steve got a job on the wharves – a job he loved. He had attended his kids school as Steve the stevedore to tell the children about working on the wharves.
His brother described Steve has having a strong sense of outrage for injustice - a man who shared people's pain and their joy.
"Steve made us laugh. He wanted him to be happy. Steve taught us people mattered. Steve taught us family mattered. Life should be enjoyed and lived to the full."
National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said that the church service was a celebration of the wonderful life of a loving dad and husband.
"It was about family and friends from the wharves and all walks of life. They paid homage to the joyful and generous character that was Stephen Piper", said Crumlin.
It was emotional day. Many men openly wept. Some like Steve Cumberlidge had been to the chapel before - to bury a brother killed in a work accident in Westenrport only three years earlier – Bob Cumberlidge.
Also there were the ambulance and first aid workers who ha attended the accident scene.
But the occasion soured by the boss at POAGs turning up at the funeral and telling Steve's mates to get back to work as service ended.
"Just how low can you get," said one waterside worker. "That's the sort of people we're dealing with."
Close to 1000 workers attended the Fremantle service led by a number of politicians including the leader of the opposition Eric Ripper, ALP Canning candidate, Alannah McTiernan and Fremantle Federal MP Melissa Page, as well as reassuring words from Father Patrick Moore of the Stella Maris Seafarers Centre. "There was a lot of sorrow and just as much anger from workers. There was a feeling that everyone has had enough, that we can't wait for this to happen again", said West Australian Branch Secretary Chris Cain.
In Brisbane the ALP candidate for Wright Andrew Ramsay was among the 300 mourners at Wynnum Manly Juniors.
“It was a beautifully successful service,” said Warren Smith. “A wonderful result greatly supported by members.”
“It was a solemn occasion, very respectful, said Assistant Branch Secretary Tony Austin. "We had representatives from every company, our women, our youth and our veterans."
Among those present were the workmates of Brad Gray killed at POAGS Brisbane in February.
"The ceremony was something that struck close to their hearts," said Austin. "Because it happened to them too. It was the same feeling right throughout the port. It gave members the opportunity to pay their respects and mourn the loss of their comrades. It really did help. There was a real sense of that and a sense of togetherness afterwards."
In Port Kembla Robbie Paterson acting branch secretary from the tugs reports about 250 workers and family attended the ceremony adjacent Jetty 4 in Port Kembla harbour.
Chaplain Dave Masters from the Mission of Seafarers read out the eulogy for Steve Piper, with members speaking for the past fallen comrades.
Special guests included Sharon Bird, MP for Cunningham, Stephen Jones who is standing for Throsby for Labor, Arthur Rorris, secretary of the Labour Council, reporters from the Illawarra Mercury and WIN News.
"We had a bag piper playing as two stevedoring workers carried the wreath and floated it in the harbour.
Phil Hawke acting branch secretary, linesmen organised the day with Scottie Carter, Patricks wharfie. Harry Smith read the Ash letter.
“All went well. Phil was on tele,” said Paterson. “And we come back to the union rooms for the wake of soft drinks and snacks BBQ 100-150 people.”
In Newcastle work stopped at Newcastle Stevedores and POAGS as around 100 workers left the job to gather at the Merchant Mariners Memorial on the Newcastle Foreshore for the service led by Father Steve Williams. Bag pipes played. Gary Kennedy, Secretary of Trades Hall Council spoke alongside MUA branch secretary Jim Boyle and deputy Len Covell.
“Occupational health and safety is a right not a privilege,” Covell said. "People are entitled to a safe workplace."
Around 50 gathered at the Maritime Museum in Palmer Street, Townsville for the service conducted by Rev John Miller from Mission of Seafarers.
Waterside worker across Townsville from both stevedoring companies unanimously supported the service and walked off the job. It was a very emotional event.
National lead organiser Bernie Farrelly gave the report on the union push for a national code, Margie Dale secretary QCU in Townsville spoke on the tragedy of Australian workers killed on the job and members read out the eulogies for each of the fallen comrades, laying a wreath for each. Our indigenous rep Paddy Newlyn read Ash's letter.
"Wharfies speak emotionally and with concern about whats happening with safety because they do high risk work on the same type of ships, operate the same types of machinery and load the same cargoes around the country but work to different safety arrangements which they beleive is contributing to the current increase in fatalities and incidents", said Farrelly.
Then those who could went to the pub for a couple of drinks. Channel 7 gave the service a good run that night.
But Townsville was one of two ports where management did not respect the dead - or worker safety, calling in office staff to work the ships and put their lives at risk.
NSS Management worked two ships - a nickel ship in port and a Patrick container ship sub contracted to them by Patrick. Patrick logistics non-union warehouse workers also came down to work the ship. This only added the union concerns about safety,” Farrelly said. "People coming out of the office to work a ship is more evidence that we need more strict safety rules. The guy on the crane but hadn't driven a one for 5 years.
In Adelaide around 250 workers, family and community met at the Workers Memorial at midday before marching to the waterfront, Jamie Newlyn, MUA state secretary reports. The port chaplain gave a service, Mark Butler, Labor member for Adelaide spoke and members read tributes to the fallen. Other speakers included the mayor and a representative from Void - Voices of Industrial Deaths who told of the loss of his son on a fishing boat.
The widow of waterfront worker Dean Robinson, killed on the Adelaide wharves in 2006 was also invited on the day, but was unable to attend. "I think even now it was too much for her," said Jamie.
Jean Robinson's words for her husband were read at the memorial.
The wake was held at the Lighthouse hotel on the waterfront.
In Darwin Thomas Mayor, MUA organiser, reports members on the wharves decided that work would have to wait while they paid their respects to Steven Piper and other fallen comrades.
The service was held at the end of Stokes Hill Wharf which was the site of the Darwin bombing where many wharfies lost their lives to Japanese during WWII.
It began with a eulogy of passed comrades. State Secretary Andy Burford then tearfully read out the condolences that had flooded in from around the world. While reading the many sad words Andy broke down as the emotions became too much.
Jason Murphy read Ash Huish's "Wharfies Plea", there was not a dry eye in the place. Thomas Mayor made a speech that was followed by a minutes silence. Father John, from the Star of the Sea Cathedral blessed a wreath and said a prayer for the dead.
Members and friends then moved outside, followed by the priest and MUA member Jason Murphy's two children Siarn and Mitchell bearing the blessed wreath. There was silence as it was thrown into the sea, a mark of respect for those that died before their time.
NT News and Channel 9 TV both covered the service. The congregation moved on to the Buff Club in Darwin when many a drink was had while wharfies, seafarers and their friends told stories of their colourful lives in two very dangerous industries.
In Devonport, Tasmania, Chaplin John McMath provided an extremely poignant service to the 80 plus members gathered at the Tasmanian Branch for the Memorial Service. On hearing of the companies decision to penalise workers for attending Friday's service he wrote to management condemning their lack of safety on the docks and their lack of compassion for the workforce.
"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," he wrote.
"As the employer of this man, your company has failed in its duty of care for this worker," he said. "This needs a drastic review by your company if the tragedies of waterfront deaths are to cease."