Too Many Fatalities On The Waterfront; Unions Call For Urgent Taskforce To Improve Safety

Workplace safety on Australian waterfronts must be overhauled to stem the mounting death toll among stevedoring workers.

Three deaths and a spate of serious injuries and near misses in a little over six months is not good enough and suggests that waterfront deregulation has reduced safety, said ACTU President Ged Kearney.

At memorial services today, unions around Australia are joining their colleagues in the Maritime Union of Australia in remembering the waterside workers who have been killed on the job in recent years.

The most recent death is that of Stephen Piper, who was killed in a work accident on Melbourne’s Appleton Dock on 14 July. His funeral service is being held today.

Ms Kearney said the waterfront remained one of the most dangerous workplaces in Australia, despite major productivity improvements.

“The growing death toll among stevedoring workers – eight in the past seven years – has to be stopped,” Ms Kearney said.

Australia’s wharves are busier than ever yet there are weaknesses in the underlying safety culture of the industry that stem in part from the deregulation of stevedoring that occurred during the Howard Government years.

“Deregulation and casualisation of the stevedoring workforce has had an impact on skill levels and training, competency standards, and the way work is structured.

“Maritime workers report that there is also inconsistency of approaches to safety management and safety practice.”

Ms Kearney said the ACTU backed the MUA’s call for an urgent and high-level national stevedoring safety task force to investigate what needs to be done to improve waterfront safety.

“Every worker should be able to go to work at the beginning of the day secure in the knowledge that they will return to their family unscathed,” Ms Kearney said.

“We need to lift workplace health and safety standards for all workers, not reduce them.”