Communist Party of Australia

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Issue #1587      March 27, 2013

MUA calls for solidarity in fight for workplace safety

The Maritime Union of Australia has been campaigning for a National Stevedoring Code of Practice (NSCOP) for over five years to deal with the spate of fatalities that have occurred across the Australian waterfront. The union is up against strong opposition from key employers who are trying to prevent improvements to safety standards on the waterfront even though fatalities continue to occur in the industry.

Safe Work Australia met recently to consider the Code of Practice and voted 8-1 to put the code out for six weeks of public comment.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and the stevedoring employers have launched a last ditch effort to bomb the code of practice. They have been campaigning on behalf of the stevedoring bosses behind the scenes in an attempt to block or undermine the code.

They are attempting to:

  • weaken the hatchman provisions which is a key safety position (the hatchman is the eyes and ears of a crane driver);
  • exclude the code from applying to stevedoring activities on board ships;
  • exclude the forthcoming cranes code of practice from applying to ships’ cranes, and
  • downgrade the code to “guidance material”, giving it less regulatory force.

Desperate to avoid a safety code of practice, the employers have lobbied The Office of Best Practice Regulation (OBPR) which has issued a requirement for a Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) to take place. This means that Code of Practice will effectively be costed as a ploy to prevent its implementation. The OBPR comes under the Department of Finance and Deregulation.

In other words they are trying to put a price on safety, and demonstrate that protecting the lives of workers would cost “too much” and eat into their sacred profits.

The MUA has launched a nationally coordinated day of action against the ACCI and its state branches on Tuesday March 26, with protests aimed at ACCI being called across the country.

The MUA is formulating a submission to Safe Work Australia that argues the case for a strong safety code for all stevedores and is calling for solidarity in their campaign from other trade unions, workers and members of the community.

“Given these attacks, we need to escalate the campaign to get a code of practice by the demonstration of a massive show of support,” MUA assistant national secretary Warren Smith told The Guardian. “We are organising to develop a huge response for the code during the week beginning April 2. The RIS process is the result of employer lobbying and the bosses have again successfully held up the code, this time so they can cost worker’s lives.”

The Code of Practice will formally go out for public comment after the RIS process. The union opposes a Regulatory Impact Statement but will continue to build as much support as possible for its submission on the Code of Practice.

The CPA will be supporting the right of wharfies and every worker to come home safely and urges all CPA members and supporters to sign on in support of the MUA’s campaign for a safer waterfront.

The last time the MUA called for public comment in support of the code, MUA members and supporters responded with a massive 1,100 individual written submissions in support of the code of practice. It was the most submissions Safe Work Australia had ever received, and it made a huge difference. This time the MUA is aiming for 20,000 individuals and organisations to sign on in support of the MUA submission supporting the right to a strong safety code of practice on the waterfront.

The Guardian will update members and supporters when the MUA’s online submission process is up and running.   

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