Asbestos is back. A Chinese company has imported asbestos in giant facades, and as insulation, packing and handling material. Construction workers on huge sites around the country were unknowingly drilling asbestos, cutting it or wrapping it in semi-loose form around facades to protect those facades while welding.
This isn't the first time a Chinese-owned company has brought asbestos into Australia. Great Wall had previously imported cars with asbestos in linings and brake pads.
NSW construction workers are better off than their comrades in other states, because it was unpacked off site, but workers in the unloading yard are particularly affected.
The Fair Work Building and Construction Inspectorate has plenty to say about so-called illegal behaviour by construction workers, their union and its officials, but is strangely quiet on this.
Meanwhile, Border Force says it “only looks for drugs” and asked the CFMEU's help to stop asbestos coming in.
In a new FiFo world
The company didn't try to hide the asbestos. A construction worker didn't think it looked right and googled the product's translation, “This is chrysotile asbestos.”
If exploited foreign workers had been on that job, they would probably not have known about the danger, and definitely not what to do about it, putting not just their own health at risk, but others' health too.
This has enormous implications because temporary visas are about to become a big issue in the construction industry.
The Australia China Free Trade Agreement allows jobs over $150 mill - not a big job these days - to import their workforce, and only 20 per cent of the capital has to be Chinese to be covered.
Brookfield Multiplex was about to run a Sydney job for a Chinese company. Now the Chinese company will run it. It's expected that the workers will fly-in, fly-out.
This is already happening in some WA mines, where Australian workers and unions are barred entry. Some unemployed WA mineworkers were recently flown in to replace sacked workers at the Carlton and United Brewery Victorian site, for 65 per cent of the wages.
But according to Australian Mines and Metals Association chief executive, Steve Knott, there are far worse things than Australian job losses or the intergenerational mass murder of asbestos exposure. True, those last words have been put into his mouth by this writer, and perhaps he's blissfully ignorant about growing safety issues on construction sites. But he has his priorities, and a particular union amalgamation is in his sights.
"It's hard to believe an amalgamation of two of the most self-declared militant unions, the MUA and CFMEU, could be in the public interest. These unions publicly and proudly commit to breaking the law," Mr Knott said. Like importing a deadly and illegal product?
Master Builders Australia chief executive Wilhelm Harnisch chimed in, describing the merger as “bad news” for the construction industry because the unions had “scant regard for the impact of their unlawful behaviours”.
Spin doctor and dirt digger for Reith during 1990 waterfront dispute, Ian Hanke, also flapped around parliamentary corridors predicting doom if the merger went ahead. Recently the Hobart Mercury exposed Mr Hanke's $20,000 jackpot for a month’s work for the Tasmanian government, as a fly-in, fly-out consultant.
Lives, livelihoods, supply chains and safety
By June Senator Michaelia Cash had taken up the anti-merger battle cry. It was “against the public interest” and she wanted to outlaw it quick smart.
"Any proposed merger between two registered organisations with significant economic power should be subjected to a public interest consideration in the same way that the merger of two companies with significant economic power would be," Senator Cash told The Australian Financial Review.
Tell that to the 55 CUB maintenance workers sacked in preparation for the world's biggest beer brewing company Anheuser-Busch InBev swallowing the second biggest, SABMiller, which owns CUB.
"In relation to offshore and onshore resource sector projects, a future amalgamation between the MUA and the CFMEU would potentially put at risk the stability of an entire supply chain,” she said.
Vanguard reckons that deliberate reintroduction of asbestos on Australian construction sites puts people's lives at risk, that dodgy trade deals put the whole supply chain in foreign corporate hands and that sticking exploited foreign workers in Australian work sites undermines people's livelihoods and safety.
But corporations rule, so if profit is at stake, they'll do what they can get away with.
People need to organise and stand up against them. If that's illegal, so be it. It speaks volumes about who really runs Australia.