Construction workers recently walked off the Royal Adelaide Hospital site after a load of steel fell from a sling seven metres onto a concrete floor and in protest at unsatisfactory safety assurances from the building consortium, Hansen Yuncken and Leighton (HYLC). Their workplace safety record is pretty bad as far as the workers are concerned.
Aaron Cartledge, SA state secretary of the CFMEU, pointed out that there have been over a dozen crane accidents in the last 18 months. What is more important to HYLC is construction deadlines and extracting labour time, consequently they bullied their workers back on site by applying to the Fair Work Commission to issue a back to work order.
The HYLC have now banned workers from holding meetings on the site and bully those workers who raise safety and danger concerns about the construction of the new hospital building.
Cartledge pointed out, "You don't have 1,000 workers make a decision to walk off the project if they think they're being listened to and communicated to, they simply have had enough of the rhetoric from this builder. All of the mission statements and glossy posters on walls and the big inductions, but the practice out on the job is nothing like what they commit to in their inductions."
Sub-contractors have been rejecting jobs on the site because of timetable changes and extensive induction processes for new workers. With the high turnover of workers at the site and the smallness of the jobs, sub-contractors just can't afford the compulsory induction courses.
This illustrates one of the many contradictions of capitalism. Construction deadlines and the importance of extracting as much labour time from workers is at odds with the pretence of occupational, health and safety bureaucracy that the state operates.
When it comes to profits vs safety the former will always win out, hence the industrial court being used to force workers back to an unsafe work site. Sometimes referred to as the “industrial umpire”, the court shares the values of the dominant class. It is independent in a formal sense, but not in terms of its ideology and class outlook.
To overcome the fact that the project is behind schedule, construction workers’ rate of work has been ramped up, increasing the risk of accidents so that HYLC can complete the $1.8 billion hospital by April 2016.
The group Voice of Industrial Deaths, set up by Andrea Madeley, held a meeting in support of the RAH workers at the main entrance gate to the site. She argued that "If it's going to or it needs four years to build or six years to build, then let it take that long." Her son Daniel was killed in a factory workplace accident in 2004.
She stated what all families would wish: "Let it be done safely so that people can get home at the end of the day and so somebody isn't attending a funeral.
"I guess the other thing is let's make sure that the people making the decisions at the very top of the ladder there become personally liable for those decisions."
Unfortunately, capitalism operates on the maxim that Marx stated: "Killing is not murder when done for profit".
Further reading: A Victorian crane-driver tells it like it is: