Work Death

Wharves stop nationwide as waterside workers remember their dead.

For many waterside workers the
full story of the deaths of two
workmates had just arrived in the
mail in July when they got an SMS alert there’d
been yet another.

“It was shocking,” said one. “I went
to collect my mail, opened the journal
and was reading the guys at Port Botany
talking about how finding Nick (Fanos)
dead really knocked them, when my
phone went off. I couldn’t believe the
timing. It freaked me out.”

Steve Piper, 41, was crushed to
death under a three-tonne steel beam
at Appleton Dock Melbourne R&D
on July 14. The wharves stopped. At
Appleton Dock, then at all POAGS (P&O
Automotive and General Stevedoring)
operations nationwide.

A week later they stopped again.
Waterside workers walked off all jobs to
join memorial services timed to coincide
with the Melbourne funeral.

It was the middle of the election
campaign. But not one politician
complained. Only the bosses at POAGS.
One even came along to the funeral to try
hound workers back to work as the hearse
drove off.

““What a grub. Just how low can you
get,” said one waterside worker. “That’s
the sort of people we’re dealing with.”


It was an emotional day. Men openly wept.
There were the ambulance and first aid
workers who had attended the accident

Around 400 waterfront workers
from Melbourne docks, Geelong and
Westernport, family and friends of
Stephen Piper filled the Boyd Chapel to
overflowing. A megaphone allowed those
hunched in the winter chill outside to hear
the service and eulogies.

The mourners at the Springvale
Cemetery on the outskirts of Melbourne
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 official Garry Keane came from
Port Kembla, Steve Cumberlidge and
Trevor Munday from Queensland, while
Victoria Branch officials Kevin Bracken,
Dave Schleibs, Dave Cushion, Bob
Patchett and Matt Purcell, ITF, joined
National Secretary Paddy Crumlin and
members for the service.


Also there was Steve’s workmate Shane

“I worked side by side with Steve for
three years,” he said. “And I was by his side
when he died.”

Shane was also by Steve’s side as
pallbearer when his coffin was carried out
of the chapel to the hearse.

He was on the ground beside the truck
at the time of his mate’s death. Shayne
had just turned away when he heard the
deadly crash as the three-tonne steel beam
came down. When he looked back Steve
was gone. It all happened in a split second.
Steve and Shane had 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.”
Shane spoke of Steve’s love of cars and
everything mechanical – how on his first
job he’d fix a spreader in half an hour that
would take others half a day.


“It was evident from the start he had really
good work ethics,” said Shane. “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 three, 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; crows circling


Steve would have loved to have heard 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 it with a 460 big block.

Steve was originally from New Zealand
and subsequently adopte by a close and
loving family. He went to kindergarten in
Singapore. It was not until years later that
he met his NZ relatives and found they
shared many of his passions and interests.
Steve enjoyed an extended and closely knit
family environment.


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 attended his kid’s school as Steve
the Stevedore to tell the children about
how good it was 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 us to
be happy. Steve taught us people mattered.
Steve taught us family mattered. Life
should be enjoyed and lived to the full.”

“The church service was a celebration of
the wonderful life of a loving dad, husband
and friend,” said National Secretary Paddy

“It was about family and friends from the
wharves and all walks of life. They reflected
on the joyful and generous character that
was Stephen Piper, unnecessarily lost
through this tragic accident.”


In Sydney, NSW Premier Kristina
Keneally attended the memorial with
around 400 maritime workers, their
families, friends and dignitaries at Darling
Harbour. She expressed deep sorrow over
the death of Stephen Piper and voiced
her support for urgent safety reforms and
regulations right across the country.

The Premier was visibly moved as Mich-
Elle Myers, MUA, read an 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

Unions lent their support headed by
Unions NSW Secretary Mark Lennon.

Wharfies and their families held up
banners with the faces of eight 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.

But, again the employers did not pay the
service the same respect.

“Port Botany guys were at the pub
and they all got a text message from
management saying ‘FWA has ordered
work to recommence at 8pm’.” said one
waterside worker.

They returned to work the next day.


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.
Also there were reassuring words from
Father Patrick Moore of the Stella Maris
Seafarers Centre.

West Australian Branch Secretary Chris
Cain said: “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.”


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 Tony.
“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 to 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 past
fallen comrades.

Special guests included Sharon Bird, MP
for Cunningham, Stephen Jones who stood
for Throsby for Labor, Arthur Rorris,
secretary of the Labour Council, reporters
from the Illawarra Mercury and WIN

“We had a bag piper playing as two
stevedoring workers carried the wreath
and floated it in the harbour,” Robbie
Paterson said.

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 came back to the union
rooms for the wake of a soft drinks and
snacks BBQ of about 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. Bagpipes 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 workers 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 what’s 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 believe
is contributing to the current increase in
fatalities and incidents,” said Bernie.

“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 container ship
sub contracted to them by Patrick. Patrick
logistics non-union warehouse workers also
came down to work the ship.

“This only added to the union’s concerns
about safety,” Bernie 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 hadn’t driven
one for five 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


In Darwin Thomas Mayor, MUA
organiser, reports members on the
wharves decided that work would have
to wait while they paid their respects to
Stephen Piper and other fallen comrades.
The service was held at the end of
Stokes Hill Wharf, the site where many
wharfies lost their lives to Japanese
bombing 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.

When Jason Murphy read Ash Huish’s
“Wharfie’s Plea” there was not a dry
eye in the place. Thomas Mayor made a
speech that was followed by a minute’s
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’s Club in Darwin
where wharfies and seafarers told stories
of their colourful lives in two very
dangerous industries.

In Devonport, Tasmania, Chaplin John
McMath provided a poignant service
to the 80-plus members gathered at the
Tasmanian Branch for the Memorial
Service. On hearing of the company’s
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
“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,” 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.”


Only weeks later POAGS Brisbane
sacked outspoken MUA delegate Steve
Cumberlidge. And MELBOURNE
wharfies who attended the Steve’s funeral
had their wages docked for paying their
respects. A Patrick dock worker told the
Melbourne Herald Sun he thought the
employer insensitive.

“It really hit home because we’ve had a
person killed and you don’t expect to be
treated like this,” he said. A letter sent to
Patrick workers accused anyone attending
the funeral of taking part in an “unlawful
industrial stoppage”, and said their pay
would be docked and no sick leave approved
for the period without a medical certificate.

Meanwhile Stephen Piper’s widow Barb, children Scott,
Megan and family have written to the union to
extend their heartfelt thanks to all who have
supported them during this difficult time.




With three deaths this year and countless near
misses, the union has redoubled its efforts to
stem the flow of blood on the nation’s wharves.
Nationally the MUA is working with government
to bring about national stevedoring
regulations – regulations that can be enforced.
Internationally dockers are agitating for health
and safety by having nations and employers
adopt global training and safety standards. And
within the union, workers are being trained and
equipped with safety manuals to carry with
them on the job.
“The union and our membership are demanding
change,” MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin
writes in the foreword of the safety manual to be
distributed to all delegates.
“The union embarked on the campaign in
response to calls for change in waterfront
safety practice,” he said. Now we are seeing
Nationally the union worked with the Labor
Government to win its commitment to
national stevedoring safety standards through
regulation ” rgulations that can be enforced.
This process which started with the National
Stevedoring Code of Practice (NSCOP) Project
in 2007 is now being finalised within Safe Work
The union has also worked with the Australian
Maritime Safety Authority and employers to
revise and improve Marine Orders for Cargo
The revised order comes into force in January
2011. But employers resisted major reform
and the union is calling for more to be done to
make cargo handling safer.
Without a national safety code and national
regulator, workers have been falling through
the cracks. To overcome ambiguity where
AMSA and state OH&S authorities interface,
the union has worked to have AMSA and
state safety regulators sign off on updated
memorandums of understanding.
The Victorian Branch played a leadership
role in a WorkSafe Victoria project to develop
stevedoring guidance material for steel and for
container loading/discharge operations. And
with the assistance of the ACTU and the MUA’s
own efforts, Safe Work Australia approved a
national version of that guidance material
which was published last year.
“We are now in talks with the employers to
ensure practice matches rhetoric,” said Paddy
At the same time the union is developing two
new training programs. One is a health and
safety representatives’ training course for
approval by state regulators this year.
The second is a safety course for all
stevedoring workers.
“We are working closely with the Transport
and Distribution Industry Training Council to
ensure the vocational education qualifications,
based on the stevedoring training package,
are more closely aligned with job roles in
stevedoring,” said Paddy Crumlin. “We are
also working with government to ensure that
high risk occupations are licensed and that the
competencies necessary to perform high risk
work are a requirement for the job.”
Meanwhile the union has produced its own
safety guidance booklet – the MUA Safety
Code. It is aimed at ensuring union members
have the tools to assist them in actively
applying regulations. It also aims to build
safety awareness and safety culture on the
wharves to bring to an end death and injury.