Published: 13 Oct 2016
Another Wasted Life on a Finbar Construction Project Whilst CFMEU Are Obstructed From Investigating Unsafe Work Practices.
At approximately 2.50PM on Monday 10th October a 27 year old German backpacker fell 35 metres to her death on a Finbar Construction Project in the Perth CBD in what is yet another black day for Western Australian construction workers. The Finbar site is less than 1 km from the site where 2 young Irish construction workers were crushed and killed by a concrete panel under 12 months ago.
When CFMEU Safety Officials entered the Finbar site about 40 minutes after the fatality, the job was still going full steam ahead with a major concrete pour still taking place. Despite the horror of a fatality, it was clearly business as usual for Finbar. They hadn't even bothered to contact the police. It took an ABC journalist to ring the police before they were made aware of the fatality. Even the OHS regulator Worksafe didn't front up to the job until over an hour after the Union Safety Officials entered site. Finbar failed to close off the second level of the job where the worker landed. Blood and strewn work clothing were clearly visible and accessible and there had been no effort to ensure the scene of the fatality wasn't contaminated.
As horrific as the fatality is for Western Australian construction workers, serious injuries and fatalities on Finbar projects are seen as almost inevitable. Finbar and its designated builder have a long track record of occupational health and safety breaches and a non-existent safety culture. In 2011, a young migrant worker was killed on a Finbar project as a consequence of non-compliant rigging and the use of inexperienced and untrained riggers. He was killed when a concrete well lid crushed his skull as the load was being lifted by a crane. Finbar sites are characterised by young, inexperienced construction workers – many of whom are unsupervised apprentices, or inexperienced and unqualified backpackers on working holiday visas.
The site of Finbar's latest fatality is no different. The Concerto Apartment Project at 189 Adelaide Terrace in East Perth has over 250 workers on site – the majority of whom are transient and or inexperienced construction workers. The deceased worker had only been on site since 20th July 2016 yet was considered one of the more experienced labourers on site. Typical of nearly all workers on site, she was working for Request (labour hire) – on sub-Award wages. Sham contracting and exploitation is rife on Finbar projects. Workers are being underpaid millions of dollars each year on the Finbar sites (less than the Award rates), and it all takes place under the nose of the industrial umpire (FWC) and the regulator (FWO). Their blatant breaches of safety standards are no different – Worksafe are rarely seen and are at best a toothless tiger. At worst they are complicit in a system which is designed to promote self-regulation of OHS, despite Western Australian builders clearly lacking the capacity or the will to comply with OHS laws.
The engagement of workers through labour hire companies on Finbar projects is a further contributing factor to a non-existent safety culture. Workers who complain about the underpayment of wages or unsafe work practices are quickly removed off site. Visa workers employed by labour hire contractors are even more vulnerable and even less likely to complain.
The deceased construction worker wasn't wearing a fall prevention harness when she fell from the 15th floor of the service shaft. An investigation by the CFMEU found that there were no suitable harness points. The closest harness point was a few metres from where she was working, located on the floor. At best, the harness point was unsafe, even if it had been used to secure a harness. To make matters worse, the worker was balanced on a plastic bucket with a 35 metre fall beneath her when she slipped and fell whilst placing silica on the shaft panels. There was nothing accidental and unavoidable about Finbar's latest fatality. The fact that Finbar kept pouring concrete after the worker was killed, clearly shows their attitude toward the death of a young foreign national on their site.
The CFMEU has consistently complained about unsafe work practices on Finbar sites including the Concerto Apartments project. Finbar have consistently hindered and obstructed CFMEU entry to site to investigate OHS breaches. Following complaints from workers about unsafe work practices in late September 2016, the CFMEU sent formal documentation to the Site Manager on the Concerto Project seeking copies of documentation as part of its investigation about the lack of supervision on site and the use of inexperienced construction workers in high risk building activity. Further to this, the CFMEU also requested documentation for the design registration of equipment and engineers certificates for work carried out on site.
The response by senior management on the Concerto Project was to hinder and obstruct Union Right of Entry and refuse the Union access to the safety documents. On 29 September 2016, Gerry Hanssen wrote to the CFMEU and advised “I haven't reported to the CFMEU for 25 years and I never will”. Following this, the CFMEU Safety Officer wrote to Hanssen and advised “I am not asking you to report to the CFMEU. The request we have sent you explains the legislation that requires you to provide the documents we have requested. This is a legal requirement”. Hanssen continued to hinder and obstruct the CFMEU and advised in an email on 01 October 2016 “We are totally capable to look after legislated regulations without your interference”. This clearly isn’t the case. Just 9 days later, the young German construction worker was killed on this very site where the CFMEU were obstructed from carrying out the safety investigation.
The Western Australian construction sector is plagued with unsafe work practices and labour market rip off’s. Regulation is almost non-existent. The return of the ABCC will compound all of the problems faced by Western Australian construction workers and will almost inevitably lead to more unnecessary deaths.