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ETU Media Releases

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Unions slam Sunshine Sugar for moving meeting to asbestos mill

Paul Lister - Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Unions have slammed Sunshine Sugar for moving a meeting about a new enterprise bargaining agreement from their Ballina head office to the asbestos-laden Broadwater Mill, which is the focus of concerns around worker and public safety.

Sunshine Sugar management has refused a written request by union representatives to change the location of the meeting due to be held at the Broadwater Mill tomorrow, despite the company’s own asbestos expert identifying the site as being high risk and ordering the workshop and stores area be urgently decontaminated.

Officials from the Electrical Trades Union and the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union said they have been left with no choice but to boycott the meeting over concerns that union representatives and workers could be exposed to asbestos if it takes place at the mill.

The unions accused Sunshine Sugar management of unreasonably refusing to relocate the meeting to an alternate venue, saying they believed management were trying to make a point given recent concerns about asbestos contamination at the mill.

The scheduled meeting relates to negotiations for a new enterprise bargaining agreement that governs the wages, conditions, and workplace rights of employees at Sunshine Sugar’s three mills in northern NSW.

“These meetings are normally held at Sunshine Sugar’s head office in Ballina, but for some reason management are insisting that tomorrow’s meeting be held at the Broadwater Mill,” ETU secretary Dave McKinley said.

“We are extremely concerned that by attending this meeting, union representatives and workers may be exposed to asbestos fibres given the company’s own asbestos testing confirmed the location of asbestos in various parts of the mill and recommended the isolation and decontamination of the workshop and stores area.

“We have made a reasonable request — in writing — to move this meeting to a safe alternate location, but management are digging their heals in and refusing to budge.”

CFMEU secretary Brian Parker said the unions were keen to get on with the planned negotiations, but not if it meant putting people’s health at risk within the asbestos-laden mill.

“We believe this facility still poses a significant risk, and we’re simply not willing to allow the health and safety of our officials and the negotiating committee to be compromised,” he said.

“All we are asking for is that management agree to hold tomorrow’s meeting in their Ballina office, which is where all prior EBA meetings have been held, rather than playing this silly game.”

Unions are currently exploring legal options in relation to the approach taken by Sunshine Sugar management towards the EBA negotiations and their refusal of a reasonable written request to move the meeting.

Safety issues at northern NSW sugar mills put workers and community at risk of asbestos exposure: union

Paul Lister - Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Sunshine Sugar, which operates three sugar mills in northern NSW, has been issued with a series of safety rectification notices after a union investigation found broken and badly degraded asbestos sheeting was potentially exposing workers and the public to the risk of inhaling deadly asbestos fibres.

Union officials conducted safety inspections of the company’s Condong, Broadwater and Harwood mills after workers raised concerns that management had failed to respond to their concerns in relation to the presence of dangerous, friable asbestos fibres.

The Electrical Trades Union said the inspection located a number of serious asbestos safety breaches, including: broken asbestos pieces on the ground in public access areas next to the Broadwater mill; corrugated asbestos sheeting that contained holes, cracks, and visible asbestos fibres; and broken asbestos sheeting in a lunchroom that had simply been covered with clear contact sheets rather than being properly remediated.

As a result of the inspections, a number of safety rectification notices were issued under the Work Health and Safety Act regarding asbestos safety breaches at the Condong and Broadwater mills.

ETU secretary Dave McKinley said the company had been notified by workers of their asbestos concerns last month but had failed to act, with the CEO claiming it was because the wrong form had been used.

“Even a tiny exposure to asbestos fibres, which lodge deep in the lungs, can be enough to cause deadly cancers and other debilitating asbestos-related diseases,” Mr McKinley said.

“That’s why it is so concerning that Sunshine Sugar management have failed to properly address very visible safety issues that have not only been putting their workforce at risk, but also the general public.

“Both the Condong and Broadwater mills are constructed with large amounts of asbestos cement sheeting, but natural weathering and age have resulted in these products breaking down, releasing friable asbestos fibres which can easily become airborne and be inhaled.

“In the short term, the company needs to immediately remove the damaged products, but they also need to move towards a plan for full asbestos removal and remediation to avoid similar incidents occurring in future.

“Australia’s industrial use of asbestos has left a deadly legacy, with 600 people dying each year from the aggressive lung cancer mesothelioma alone, while thousands more are diagnosed with other asbestos-related diseases.

“The danger of asbestos is well know, and companies like Sunshine Sugar that know their workplaces contain extensive quantities of aging asbestos products have a legal and moral obligation to protect their employees and the neighbouring communities from this very foreseeable risk.

“We have also been disappointed that management tried to pass the blame for their failure onto staff, with the CEO claiming the reason no action was taken was because a worker used the incorrect form to report the issue.