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ETU Media Releases

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Safety Inspectors shut down $200m Opera House Works

Paul Lister - Wednesday, October 11, 2017

In a very rare move, SafeWork NSW has issued a Prohibition Order, shutting down the $200 million renovation of the Sydney Opera House after electrical workers raised the alarm over deadly asbestos on site.

Scientific testing last Friday confirmed samples taken from work areas at the iconic site contained friable
asbestos, posing a serious health risk and leaving workers with no other option but to walk off the job immediately.

On Monday, the safety regulator issued builder Laing O’Rourke with the order, requiring all work to cease in the ceiling space of the Joan Sutherland Theatre - the Opera House’s second biggest theatre and performance space.

The Electrical Trades Union said 35 electricians employed by electrical contractor Downer have been exposed to loose, cancer-causing asbestos fibres while installing cabling.

“Opera House workers, performers and patrons have been put at serious risk because builder Laing O’Rourke has continually failed to find a solution to this critical safety issue,” ETU secretary Dave McKinley said.

 “This is the second time in two months asbestos concerns have shut down renovations at the Opera House and the ETU is demanding to be involved in approving any asbestos removal or remediation plans.

“The NSW Government owns this building and must step up to ensure the asbestos removal is done properly as part of this major upgrade, particularly given the builder is receiving $200 million taxpayer dollars to carry out the renovations.

 “The ETU is calling for the full removal of asbestos from the Opera House as part of the renovation works to also protect future generations of workers, performers and patrons.”

Asbestos contamination at the Opera House was first identified two months ago, with SafeWork NSW issuing improvement notices to builder Laing O’Rourke, giving the company seven days to eliminate the threat to workers.

Instead of clearing up the dangers, Laing O’Rourke has threatened to take workers to the Fair Work Commission, accusing them of taking unlawful industrial action after they chose to put their safety first and stop work on the site.

 “These workers were faced with putting their jobs and even their lives on the line, knowing they were working on a potentially deadly site,” Mr McKinley said.

 “The ETU will always fight for the safety of workers at the Opera House to ensure their workplace is free of hazardous and deadly asbestos.

“The NSW has an obligation to future generations that sites like the Opera House are cleared of asbestos so that this scourge doesn’t continue for years to come.”

Electricians again walk off $200m Opera House renovation over safety fears followings asbestos tests

Paul Lister - Friday, October 06, 2017

Electrical workers this morning stopped work on the $200 million renovation of the Sydney Opera House, refusing to continue with the installation of cabling through the iconic building after receiving confirmation that potentially-deadly friable asbestos had again been located in work areas.

Scientific testing of samples collected yesterday were this morning confirmed to contain friable asbestos, sparking a meeting of electrical workers where they decided to walk off the job immediately until the serious safety issue was resolved.

The incident is the second time in two months that asbestos concerns have halted renovation works on the iconic building, with the Electrical Trades Union demanding the safety regulator and NSW Government intervene to ensure the issue is resolved.

“This issue was first identified two months ago, with SafeWork NSW giving builder Laing O'Rourke a weak slap on the wrist. The company had seven days to remove the asbestos or eliminate the threat to workers through appropriate safety measures and have clearly failed to do so,” ETU secretary Dave McKinley said.

“Electricians yesterday raised the alarm that they were again being exposed to loose asbestos fibres, which has now been confirmed by scientific testing.

“Two months after this major safety issue was uncovered, and the builder was ordered to rectify it by the safety regulator, we have again seen workers exposed to these carcinogenic fibres.”

Mr McKinley said the union was demanding the NSW Minister for Better Regulation, Matt Keen, immediately launch an investigation as to why SafeWork NSW refuses to impose a prohibition notice on Laing O'Rourke, which would prevent any construction work from taking place in the contaminated areas until the asbestos was isolated and removed by specialist contractors.

“It is completely unacceptable that workers, performers and the general public continue to be exposed to a toxic substance at this iconic building, particularly as the builder is receiving $200 million from taxpayers to carry out the renovations,” he said.

“Electricians have made a decision to put their safety first, despite the fact that Laing O'Rourke previously threatened to have them prosecuted in the Fair Work Commission after accusing them of taking unlawful industrial action when they last stopped work over asbestos concerns.

“It’s pretty clear the system is broken when workers are threatened with legal action for refusing to expose themselves to a deadly substance like asbestos, yet the safety regulator seems unwilling to ensure the builder is abiding by workplace health and safety laws.

“The NSW Government need to get off their backsides, take responsibility for this serious issue, and ensure that all asbestos is removed from the Opera House.”

Electrical safety issues uncovered on Sydney Metro Northwest after vehicle hits live wiring, blacking out tunnel

Paul Lister - Thursday, August 24, 2017

Workplace safety standards on the NSW Government’s Sydney Metro Northwest rail project have come under fire after an all-terrain Manitou forklift came into contact with live electrical wiring, blacking out the construction site and activating emergency lighting which was reported as inadequate.

Following the incident, a safety inspection by a licenced electrician from the Electrical Trades Union revealed additional breaches of Australian Standards and safety legislation on the project.

The union said the safety issues included three phase electrical wiring that had been wrapped around a water pipe and run through the tunnel without any physical protection in place to prevent vehicles or power tools from coming into contact with it and compromising insulation.

ETU Secretary Dave McKinley said that the most concerning moment of the safety investigation came when management on the project refused to cut power to the cable despite being informed it was not only dangerous, but also illegal.

“We have serious concerns that electrical safety standards are not being met during the construction of the Sydney Metro Northwest, putting workers at risk of injury or death,” Mr McKinley said.

“Days after power was cut to the railway tunnel when a vehicle struck a live power cable, our inspectors found electrical cabling that is breach of relevant electrical standards and safety laws.

“Wrapping a power cable around a water pipe, with nothing to protect it from being impacted by heavy vehicles or workers with power tools, is unacceptable on any building site, yet for some reason it is being done on a massive Government-funded infrastructure project.

“We fear that because so much of the construction is occurring underground and in tunnels, where the public and media can’t see what’s going on, management think they are able to cut corners with safety.”

Mr McKinley said that Safe Work NSW have failed in their obligation to investigate serious and repeated safety breaches on the site and that that NSW regulator needed to act.

“Safe Work NSW are nowhere to be seen on one of NSW largest and most dangerous worksites,” he said.

“I am calling on Safe Work NSW to do their job and enforce workplace safety laws that are in place to protect workers.

“It is simply unacceptable that such a cavalier approach to workplace safety that continues to put lives at risk  is being allowed to occur on a major, state government infrastructure project.”

Sydney Metro North West asbestos shock

Paul Lister - Monday, August 21, 2017

The discovery of asbestos in a major Sydney infrastructure project has alarmed workers and union officials, who have questioned the methods of the consortium building the project.

The Sydney Metro North West site at Tallawong Road, Schofields was shut down shortly before midday on Thursday for the second time this week after asbestos was discovered in an area where heavy machinery had been operating for more than a year. Workers were sent back to work on the site on Friday.

Electrical Trades Union New South Wales secretary Dave McKinley said the fact that the material was detected long after work had commenced was evidence that the company had not properly surveyed the site before commencing.

“Any form of asbestos is deadly – let me make that perfectly clear,” he said. “Given that there has been heavy machinery operating in the nearby area, it’s hard to see how it would not have become loose and airborne.

“We are concerned that more than 100 workers have been exposed to this material. We are also concerned that visitors to the Buddhist Temple that backs onto the site and local residents could be at risk.”

Union officials have been unable to locate the hazardous materials register for the site, which head contractor NRT Project – a consortium of John Holland, Cimic, Leightons and UGL – are required by law to maintain.

“It appears that the people in charge of this project put budgets and timelines ahead of human lives,” he said. “We want to know why this material wasn’t detected in pre-work surveys and where the register of hazardous materials that it should appear on has gone.”

Mr McKinley said he wanted an explanation of why workers were sent back to affected areas after the initial discovery, and demanded an agreed independent hygienist survey all Sydney Metro North West sites to determine their safety. He also demanded lung capacity testing for people working in affected areas, air quality testing for surrounding neighbourhoods and asbestos awareness training for all workers on the project.

Finally, Mr McKinley said that anyone exposed, working on the project or living in the area who risked exposure should be added to the national asbestos exposure register.

A hard earned thirst needs a secure, properly paid job NSW Unions back CUB campaign

Paul Lister - Friday, August 12, 2016

Unions NSW, Electrical Trades Union and AMWU activists will today hit the streets in a leafleting blitz to call on NSW residents to reconsider purchasing Carlton and United Breweries products.

The company terminated the jobs of 54 electricians and fitters last month, before inviting them to reapply for their jobs with a 65 per cent pay cut.

Union-busting labour is now being bused into the facility on a daily basis.

"CUB has built its brand on blue collar sweat, but today it is leaving a very bitter aftertaste. To turn its back on its unionised workforce is deep treachery," said Dave McKinley, ETU Assistant Secretary.

"Today, we are returning serve. We are calling on trade union members across NSW to reconsider supporting all CUB brands, including VB."

AMWU State Secretary, Tim Ayres, endorsed the call. "CUB's behaviour in Melbourne is despicable. You can't extol Australian workers in your ads while sacking workers in your factory. This company is completely disingenuous.”

Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey said the entire NSW trade union movement was behind the campaign.

"This action has the backing of the entire NSW trade union movement. We will use every means at our disposal to hold CUB to account."

Apprentice electrician rushed to hospital following serious fall at Barangaroo construction site

Paul Lister - Thursday, May 05, 2016

A first-year electrical apprentice has been rushed to Royal North Shore Hospital following a fall of approximately five metres at the Barangaroo construction site in Darling Harbour.

The incident occurred shortly after 8am today when the apprentice fell through a temporary floor cover over one of the service risers.

The apprentice, employed by the National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA) Group Training company and working for Stowe Australia, was being supervised by another apprentice at the time of the fall. This second apprentice raised the alarm.

Officials from the Electrical Trades Union attended the site immediately following the incident and have already identified a number of other safety breaches, including workers being exposed to live electrical cables.

The builder, Lend Lease, has moved to stop all riser work in tower three until a review of the electrical contractor Stowe Australia has been undertaken.

ETU organiser Stewart Edward said that the apprentice suffered leg and back injuries.

“From what we know so far, the apprentice appears to have suffered leg and back injuries after calling approximately five metres,” Mr Edward said.

“He was treated on the scene by ambulance paramedics and has been transported to Royal North Shore Hospital.

“Thankfully, his injuries do not appear to be critical.

“Today’s incident is the latest in a string of safety breaches on the Barangaroo site, including some that have resulted in workers losing their lives.

“Both Stowe Australia and NECA Group Training have a legal responsibility to provide a safe work environment.

“If it is found that they have breached their responsibilities it could lead to prosecution of both organisations, which is something we will be looking at very closely.”

The union informed SafeWork NSW, with inspectors attending the scene to carry out their own investigation.

“This incident could easily have ended with a tragic outcome,” Mr Edward said.

“The ETU will be pursuing this matter to ensure that this kind of incident does not occur again.”

Union raises safety concerns after electrical worker dies following fall from ladder on Sydney construction site

Paul Lister - Monday, July 27, 2015

A 62 year old electrical worker has died in hospital of his injuries just days after falling from an extension ladder while working on a construction site in Kensington Street, Chippendale.

The Electrical Trades Union said building work on the site had stopped following the worker’s fall on Wednesday afternoon, with WorkCover NSW issuing prohibition notices in relation to all ladders on the site.

The injured man suffered serious head injuries when he struck the ground, and despite being transported to hospital he later passed away.

ETU spokesman Dave McKinley said union officials had visited the site on at least two occasions prior to the fatal fall, raising a range of safety concerns including in relation to work at heights.

Mr McKinley said that while the deceased man was employed through a labour hire company, workplace health and safety legislation places the ultimate duty of care for providing a safe working environment on builder Rapid Construction and principal electrical contractor Ozlect Electrical.

“From our initial investigations, it appears there have been multiple safety breaches on this construction site that may have directly contributed to this man’s tragic death,” he said.

“Despite previous visits by union officials who highlighted serious safety concerns, including in relation to work carried out at heights, there appears to have been no safe work method statements in place and faulty equipment, including ladders, in use.

“Investigations are ongoing, however a site-wide safety audit conducted following this accident revealed what appear to be systemic failures to implement safe systems of work.

“All work on the project has halted, and safety regulator WorkCover NSW has issued prohibition notices in relation to all ladders on site.

“There are serious questions that still need to be answered by the builder and electrical contractor to explain how this tragic accident was able to occur.

“It is shocking that dozens of workers still die on Australian construction sites every year due to accidents that are easily avoidable if safe work practices are made a priority.”

Concerns over safety at Barangaroo after worker made contact with live power during 15 hour shift

Paul Lister - Monday, May 18, 2015

Workers are demanding a thorough investigation into safety at Barangaroo South following a serious incident that saw a labour hire contractor come in contact with live electricity while carrying out commissioning work in a switch room, in the second serious electrical incident at the site this year.

The Electrical Trades Union said two electricians, employed by labour hire company LUHAN Group, had been working on the site for more than 15 hours when one of them came into contact with a live circuit.

Despite the incident occurring at 9.40pm on Thursday, safety regulator WorkCover NSW was not notified of the accident until 200 workers from major electrical contractor Stowe Australia stopped work on the site and demanded proper scrutiny of the accident.

ETU secretary Steve Butler said inspectors from WorkCover issued two prohibition notices — preventing certain work from occurring — following their visit to the site.

“There are serious questions that still need answering about how this electrician was able to make contact with a live circuit, which had the potential to deliver a fatal electric shock,” Mr Butler said.

“The union has been told that these two men — employed by a labour hire contractor — had been working for more than 15 hours at the time of the incident.

“They were there without supervision, no safe work method statement had been prepared for what they were doing, there was no observer in the switch room in case of an emergency, and there were reportedly delays with the response to the accident.

“It is also concerning that the safety regulator was not notified about the incident until after the union and workers demanded the cause of the accident be properly investigated.”

Mr Butler said he was deeply concerned that labour hire workers, who have no job security, were being pressured to work long hours in dangerous conditions at Barangaroo.

“Unlike the electrical workers employed by major contractors on site, these labour hire workers have no job security, so they find it extremely challenging to raise safety concerns,” he said.

“It is difficult to imagine permanent electricians being forced to work more than 15 hours straight without proper safety procedures in place, yet that was what was asked of these two men.”

Electricians stop work on $1 billion Lend Lease convention centre project after potentially fatal safety breach

Paul Lister - Saturday, November 22, 2014

A potentially fatal electrical safety breach during construction of the International Convention Centre at Darling Harbour has led to more than 40 electricians refusing to carry out non-emergency work.

All electrical workers on the site — employees of major electrical contractors Stowe Australia and Fredon — yesterday voted to halt work following a meeting of the safety committee, where they indicated they had no confidence in the ability of builder Lend Lease to provide a safe workplace.

The decision follows an incident where an electrician had “locked out” a switchboard, ensuring a circuit remained off while electrical work was carried out.

When the electricians finished work for the day, a Lend Lease foreman allegedly ordered another worker to use an angle grinder to cut off the padlock and restore power to the circuit. The following morning an electrical worker was just moments from being electrocuted when he recommenced work on what he believed was still a de-energised circuit.

The Electrical Trades Union said the incident, a clear breach of basic safety precautions, had almost led to the fourth fatality on a Sydney construction site in less than a fortnight.

“It is an industry standard that electricians use special padlocks to ‘lock out’ switch boards and other electrical equipment, preventing power from being restored to circuits that are currently being worked on,” ETU secretary Steve Butler said.

“These large padlocks include a written warning explaining that the circuit is locked out, with only the electrician that installed the lock authorised to remove it, for obvious safety reasons.

“It is extremely concerning that a Lend Lease foreman would deliberately breach this procedure by ordering a worker to cut the lock off and restore power, with no warning to electricians that this had taken place.”

Mr Butler said workers were also concerned that it had taken almost a week for Lend Lease to report the incident to WorkCover NSW, and that the safety regulator had said it would not be investigating the breach.

“The union is demanding that both Lend Lease and WorkCover NSW conduct a thorough investigation of how basic safety practices were suspended, putting lives at risk,” he said.

“Lend Lease is currently responsible for several major construction sites across Sydney, including Barangaroo, with workers complaining of systemic safety issues across these projects.

“In this case, an essential and long-standing safety practice — an electrician ‘locking out’ a circuit that was currently undergoing work — was completely disregarded, putting lives at risk.

As a result electrical workers have been left with no choice but to halt work and only respond to emergencies until Lend Lease can ensure their safety.

“It really shouldn’t be too much to ask that basic safety practices be undertaken to ensure every worker is able to return home safely to their family each night.”


Central West to be hit by massive job losses

Paul Lister - Monday, October 28, 2013

The Central West has been hit with two announcements that will deliver massive job losses for Bathurst and Orange.

Appliance manufacturer Electrolux based at Orange yesterday announced that they plan to close their production facility by 2016, which will result in the loss of 500 jobs.

This announcement comes hot on the heals of another announcement by food manufacturer Simplot, who's brands include Edgell, Birdseye, Leggo's and Chiko among others.

Simplot announced on Thursday the loss of 110 jobs at their Kelso plant after the company announced that they would reduce local operations, bringing the total job losses for the Central West to more than 600 in just two days.

Electrical Trades Union (ETU) Secretary, Steve Butler, said that these announcements would have a devastating impact on the region.

"What we have here are more than 600 well paying, highly skilled local jobs being slashed.”

"We all know that the manufacturing sector is under intense pressure from global competition and the high Australian dollar but it is also clear that all levels of government must do more,” said Mr. Butler.

"Private companies make these decisions based on profit and their ability to compete, the simple fact is that Australian manufacturing can not compete with places like China, Malaysia and India so we have to look at other ways to protect these jobs.”

"Our government like to talk about "Free Trade" deals with places like China and the United States but what we need is "Fair Trade" where locally made products can compete on price and where local jobs are viable and protected." Mr. Butler said.

"I don't believe things will change, unless our Government change their approach to manufacturing in Australia.  If this does not happen we will continue to bleed good quality jobs like those being lost in the Central West." Mr. Butler said.

"As representatives of the workforce, the ETU and other unions will obviously working closely with these companies to ensure the best possible outcome is achieved from what is a dire set of circumstances.”

"Our primary concern will be to save as many jobs as possible, help find work for those who lose their jobs and to make sure all entitlements are paid."