The Guardian 12 March, 2008
Divers fight for safety
The Port Botany Divers strike finished last week with the peaceful assembly in full swing at the desalination plant. For divers this NSW State Government project is an occupational health and safety nightmare with serious safety concerns that jeopardise the lives of divers on site.
The divers are showing no sign of buckling to the enormous pressures facing them as the Australian Building and Construction Commission intervened in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC).
The main project contractor John Holland has applied for fines of $28,000 each against the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) Sydney Branch Secretary Warren Smith and the 14 striking divers.
The diving contractor has now obtained an order from the AIRC that the divers return to work.
"My understanding is that this dispute is solvable, but that the intervention of parties wanting to flex their political muscle has sent things off the rails", said MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin.
The union and the divers have made several attempts to resolve the dispute that all involve the workplace becoming a safe and secure operation that does not risk the lives of the divers. The MUA is of the view that safety can really only be obtained through a union collective agreement as the divers have absolutely no trust in the employer to provide a safe workplace.
The company is seeking orders to get the workers to return to the desalination death trap and the MUA is attempting to demonstrate the bona fide safety issues prevalent within the workplace.
dangerous loads suspended over working divers.
unpredictable winch wires on deck in diversí working area.
no safety committee and no workable emergency response plan or evacuation procedure.
no recovery mechanism for unconscious divers.
welders and electricians working in heavy rain.
Many more issues are raised by the divers.
The non-union collective agreement in place has demonstrated the weaknesses of these types of agreements. Safety is secondary in a non-union workplace. Without a union presence employers will ride roughshod over workers. This shows the vital necessity of union organisation for workers. In unionised areas of the maritime industry these blatant breaches of safety do not usually occur. Safety is union business.
We hope to see you all out at Port Botany supporting the divers in their important struggle.
The peaceful assembly can be found at Friendship Road at Port Botany at the Molineux Point end.