Workplace OHS stories
Lawrence back at work after support from work mates
Lawrence Vassalo (far left, with members Paul and Anthony), is an NUW member at a small steel distribution site in Melbourne. He is back at work after a battle with a WorkCover insurer.
Lawrence injured himself at work a number of months ago and had to take time off. However, the insurance company rejected his WorkCover claim and asserted that Lawrence’s injury did not happen at work. At the same time, the company would not allow Lawrence to work until he had a full clearance. During this time, he was at home but he was not on his own.
Lawrence’s delegate, HSR and fellow NUW members stood beside him and decided to stand up to the insurance company. They knew that Lawrence injured himself at work, so they knew that Lawrence had a valid WorkCover claim. They set out to make sure that the insurance company had an accurate record of what happened. They all wrote statements in support of Lawrence’s case, and kept in contact with Lawrence to make sure that he was going to return to work.
After collecting the statements, the NUW fought the insurer’s determination by asking for the company to do an internal review, and then by taking the matter to the Accident Compensation Conciliation Service. At the hearing, Lawrence was represented by someone from Unions Assist, a service provided to all NUW members.
Due to the statements from his workmates, and to Lawrence’s perseverance, Lawrence won at conciliation. He is now back at work on full duties and has been back-paid for his absences from work and for his medical expenses.
Lawrence said that he was “happy that my work mates and the Union stuck up for me, without them I would have given up. I also encourage all workers to stand up for yourself against insurance companies, don’t just accept their decisions.”
If you are injured at work or an insurance company makes a decision about your claim, make sure that you get in contact with NUW Assist on 1300 275 689.
Workers stand united to improve their health and safety representation
Workers at Woolworths’ MLDC site have endured a long roller coaster ride to finally have improved health and safety representation.
In 2010 a mere three health and safety representatives (HSRs) were forced to do all the work to represent 460 workers at the site, even though workers had many different shift patterns. They recognised how difficult it was to represent everyone and commenced a campaign to improve health and safety representation.
During this campaign some 350 workers stood together and signed a petition to force the company to increase the number of HSRs. Together, HSRs and Delegates with the back-up of their Union Rep were able to re-negotiate the number of HSRs at the site. Due to the pressure that was mounted on the company, they finally agreed to increase the number of reps to 12.
After this agreement was reached workers then conducted health and safety elections, and just as things were looking on the up; WorkSafe ruled that the election had to be redone. Although this dampened members' spirits, they struggled through and conducted another election. Now Woolworths’ MLDC have 12 fully-fledged HSRs on site.
Newly elected HSR Sean Crotty commented on his new role as HSR, “I feel honoured to have been elected by my peers to represent them on their health and safety issues, it’s a great responsibility and I’m really looking forward to the challenge.
I know how difficult that challenge will be too, as lots of members have already expressed many issues and concerns that they have with the health and safety at the site. However, I am comforted by the strength and unity that we have, and many members have even offered their assistance to help resolve workplace health and safety issues.
I believe that members have reacted extremely positively to having more representation, and that increased representation will enable us to change the workplace for the better. So far we have done three of the five days of our HSR training, and we have learnt so much that it has already started to help us improve the health and safety of members at MLDC.”
Delegate and HSR Rohan Hill was stoked with the result; “I’m very happy that we’ve been able to improve our health and safety representation. I’m even more happy that we’ve done this all by ourselves. This really shows that when workers stick together, we can achieve anything.
Outcomes like this never come easy, they’re always a struggle. But they’re certainly not possible without the help and support of the strong and united members at the site," Rohan said.
Members are also currently negotiating their EBA at Woolworths, you can read about how that process is going here.
EVERY WORKER'S SAFETY COUNTS
A worker was tragically killed at one of our cold storage sites in Laverton. He was a 37 year-old contractor who came from Zimbabwe. He was only known as Colin to his workmates.
Colin was doing routine contract maintenance work for the Dock Leveling company, Tieman, when the hydraulics burst and the dock leveler came down on top of him. More than ten workers immediately scrambled to remove it from his body and then dragged him from underneath. He was still breathing but his head had been badly crushed. He died later in hospital. Workers at the site were particularly shaken with one of our members bringing in a wreath in his memory.
Colin had worked as a maintenance contractor for the company for a period of seven years. His death is a sad reminder of how contractors and casual workers can be most vulnerable and at risk of being injured or killed.
"Due to financial pressures, casual workers may be forced into taking on undesirable or high risk assignments off loaded by larger organizations.” From report Hidden Health and Safety costs of casual employment, 2006.
It is incredibly important that all OHS reps, including contractors, labour hire or casuals, become part of their designated work group representation. We must actively support them to ensure we have the strongest standards for everyone.
OHS rep Graeme Dobson said, “We need to be diligent about getting things done right. We must bring things to task to do all jobs safely, if we don’t think they are quite right we should speak up and say NO. No amount of money pays for our life. It’s just not worth it.”
The International Labour Organization hands down important decision challenging Canada’s asbestos policy 2010
In a landmark development challenging the Canadian government’s asbestos policy on the international stage the ILO has said that the Canadian government must heed the reputable science on asbestos; must adopt the strictest standards to protect workers; and must consult with workers.
Presently, the Canadian government ignores the scientific evidence on asbestos; provides the most inferior protection against asbestos of any industrialized country; and does not consult with workers regarding its asbestos policy.
- Click here for a summary of the ILO Committee’s ruling by Lucien Royer of the Canadian Labour Congress
- Click here for the presentation that was made to the Committee on June 10 by Barb Byers, executive vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress
This is particularly embarrassing for the Harper government as it has claimed that the ILO supports its asbestos policy, which is clearly false. It is also very embarrassing timing, as the government is about to take part in the UN Rotterdam Convention conference in Geneva in a couple of weeks, where the damaging health issues of asbestos will be on the agenda.