Death on Grocon site – industrial manslaughter laws needed says socialist councillor

Statement by Sue Bolton, Socialist Alliance Moreland City Councillor

Experienced crane driver and union activist Billy Ramsay was killed on the Grocon construction site in central Melbourne on February 18. This news was buried many pages inside the Murdoch-owned Herald Sun daily tabloid.

There has been no investigation by the Herald Sun into the dangerous state of the Grocon site. And yet, in August and September 2012, the Herald Sun ran daily front cover stories for at least a week with screaming headlines describing construction workers and their union, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union as "bullies" and "thugs".

This was because the CFMEU organised a 16-day demonstration by building workers outside the site (see picture) to protest Grocon's practice of the company picking the health and safety reps and union reps. The fact that the union and the workers weren't able to pick their own reps, has made it easier for Grocon to operate its sites with terrible health and safety issues.

Grocon workers report that anyone who raises a health and safety issue on site gets stood over and bullied.

This situation has now ended disastrously with a worker, Billy Ramsay falling 10 stories to his death. A Worksafe investigation is under way to find out exactly what happened.

While it is not known exactly what led to Ramsay's death, the fact that Grocon maintains such an unsafe site with employer-picked union "delegates" and hand-picked OHS "representatives" increased the likelihood of such a tragedy occurring.

In 2012, the Victorian government mobilised almost 1000 police on one morning of the protest. This is one in every 13 sworn police in Victoria. During the dispute, 3067 police shifts were worked.

This information was only revealed as a result of a freedom of information request from the union but the police withheld information on the cost of the police operation.

The Baillieu government devoted enormous state resources to protect the economic interests of Grocon and the Grollo family at the expense of the health and safety and economic security of the workers.

Even if Worksafe finds that Billy Ramsay's death is a result of negligence by Grocon, the penalty is unlikely to be anything more than a mild fine, a slap on the wrist.

The time is well overdue for industrial manslaughter laws to be introduced all over Australia. A company causing a worker's death or injury through negligent health and safety practices should be charged with manslaughter for deliberately causing death or injury, just like what happens when an individual causes the death of someone.

The James Hardie asbestos producing company produced the killer asbestos for many decades after it was established by scientists that asbestos was a killer. James Hardie's negligence was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, and yet not one James Hardie executive has been sent to jail for this crime.

For more information contact Sue Bolton 0413 377 978