The Guardian 9 February, 2005

Bosses attempt to exonerate employers who kill workers

The Mining Division of the CFMEU has warned of a significant industrial backlash in the nation's coal mining industry as two of the biggest coal producers in Australia attempt to overturn criminal provisions in occupational health and safety laws.

The warning comes as Xstrata and Centennial Coal announced that they will challenge NSW health and safety laws under which they have been successfully prosecuted, resulting in criminal convictions in the case of the loss of four miners' lives at Xstrata's Gretley Colliery in 1996 and at Centennial Coal's Awaba Colliery where a miner, Barry Edwards, was killed in 1998.

Tony Maher, General President of the CFMEU's Mining and Energy Division, said that if Xstrata and Centennial Coal were successful in their applications it would invalidate prosecutions for criminal negligence.

"These companies are attempting to exonerate employees who kill people at work. They are seeking to exempt themselves from laws that apply to everyone else in the community. If successful, their appeals would have wide implications on the application of criminal laws throughout the whole of Australia."

Mr Maher accused the companies of dicing with miners' lives and called on both Xstrata and Centennial Coal to meet directly with its employees and explain their motives to them.

"Let these companies tell the miners face to face why they consider their health and safety not worth the protection of the law and why they consider their lives of no value.

"The mining industry is internationally recognised as the most hazardous in the world. The workers in it need all the protection they can get. This is underlined by the fact that at present there are inquiries into mine health and safety underway in four States in Australia - NSW, Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria.

"Our Union has one thing to say to Xstrata, Centennial Coal and all other mining companies operating in Australia - we will not compromise on health and safety in the mining industry. Our members cannot be expected to work in an unsafe industry in which mineworkers are stripped of the full protection of the law."

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