Safety should not be optional. It should be an absolute right and like other rights it should be enshrined in law.
Unfortunately this isn't the case in the stevedoring industry and the MUA is fighting vigorously to achieve a regulated approach to safety on the waterfront.
The long string of fatalities must stop. No worker should go to work and fail to return home to their loved ones. No family should ever expect their breadwinner not to return home.
Stevedoring work is unique and inherently dangerous. It often takes place on foreign owned and controlled vessels with questionable standards. These ships are often outside of the jurisdiction of Australian law. Like no other Australian worker; wharfies work in foreign floating factories.
Regardless of existing guidance material and Marine Orders, Australian stevedoring companies have failed to ensure that the Australian waterfront is a safe place to work. The unduly high fatality and injury rate is overwhelming evidence of this.
In the current competitive environment the current OHS systems of performance based safety do not adequately deliver safe workplaces.
What's required is a regulatory solution that will provide a guaranteed minimum set of standards for waterfront safety.
Current hazard based regulations do not provide an adequate response to the unique set of circumstances that the stevedoring industry generates. The current set of safety standards applicable to the industry do not provide adequate solutions for waterside workers and their families who are increasingly concerned about the well-being of their loved ones at work.
Stevedoring specific regulation is the solution that the MUA is pursuing to deal with the enormous gaps in safety on the waterfront.
A Jurisdictional Mess
There is great confusion about jurisdictional coverage on the waterfront. Every state has a different regulator and then there is AMSA nationally. There is a cross jurisdictional mix and an abundance of uncertainty regarding who looks after which aspects of stevedoring safety.
The MUA advocates a single enforcement and regulatory regime. Who carries out that task is not the primary matter but the necessity for the enforcement of a stevedoring specific regulation in a unified and comprehensive fashion is an outcome that needs to be delivered.
No Industrial plaything
Safety is not an industrial tool. The MUA's efforts are in some quarters being regarded as cynical and having an industrial end. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If the employers are convinced they have adequate safety systems in place let's see them underpinned by regulation that then flows down to a National Safety Code of Practice.
There is no politics in this other than the politics of saving lives.
Workers should be certain they will go home after work.
Skills and Qualifications
For too long the waterfront has been de-skilled. The MUA's campaign for safety regulation calls for a strong link to the Transport and Logistics Industry Skills Council Stevedoring Training Package.
The union has successfully advocated that the skills certificates II, III and IV should be linked to gradings within the stevedoring industry award. This has been achieved.
We are now moving into bargaining to achieve a proper outcome in EBAs that reflect these training standards. We are seeking recognition in stevedoring regulation for the skills levels to be applied to wharfies.
Training on the waterfront has become a farce. The MUA is now developing courses and is aiming to have minimum standards applied to training not only for skills issues but for Occupational Health and Safety standards, inductions and all aspects of work on the waterfront.
Again it is our aim to have these enshrined in a stevedoring specific regulation that will ensure that employers cannot erode the basic standards that are required on the job to ensure the best possible safety outcomes.
Certain employers have been whipping up a storm of sentiment about their credentials with regard to safety on the waterfront. They have been critical of MUA members walking off the job to attend memorial services on July 23 after three deaths on the waterfront in just five months.
Wharfies bravely took on the issue and acted in the interest of the industry and in our own self interest reacting to the unsustainable situation regarding waterfront safety practices across the country.
It is only the courageous action of wharfies in the face of tragedy that captured the attention of Government and the employers making them realise that waterside workers have had enough of death in the workplace. The facts are that the only way we have been able to get any traction from government and subsequently the employers is when we either lose another comrade or take action.
Arising out of the various actions taken and the unfortunate death toll, the union will be participating in a Safe Work Australia Temporary Advisory Group that will examine the formulation of Stevedoring Specific Regulation.
This means the formulation of regulations that will govern the safety of waterside workers; not the self imposed safety systems that can be by-passed by employers when they feel the need to improve productivity or profitability.
It was the union's work that seen this group come into existence. It was the unions push for regulation that has seen us come this far in moving toward a legally sustainable safety culture in the workplace.
Every stevedoring employer has rejected stevedoring specific regulation. In fact the already existing Safe Work Australia Stevedoring Guidelines have hardly been utilised by stevedoring employers in their minimal training packages.
It is the union's efforts and the efforts of rank and file wharfies that have put this issue back on the map and have placed us in a position whereby we are moving toward a regulatory approach which will, when linked to the union's plans for training, licencing and certification save lives.
Don't buy the boss's line that your action on July 23 did not have an effect. It has moved us further than we have ever been before in linking the three main aspects of safety on the waterfront to gain the best possible results for wharfies. They are stevedoring specific regulation, skills training linked to industrial reality and training in safety systems and OHS best practice for all workers.
The first Safe Work Australia Temporary Advisory Group will meet on September 14 and a full report will be delivered on the outcome. It has been a battle to even get there, now we are there we need to remain united and determined to get the results we set out to achieve when we started off the NSCOP project.