Axe ABCC now, demand workers mourning mates
29 April 2009 Content provided to you by AAP.
By Steve Gray, BRISBANE, April 28 AAP -
Some 25,000 construction workers have rallied across Australia, adding their voices to the ACTU's push for the abolition of the building watchdog dubbed "Gillard's Gestapo".
The workers, who gathered in capital cities across Australia on Tuesday, are also demanding the rollout of uniform national health and safety laws.
Rallies were held across the nation to mark Workers' Memorial Day, in honour of workers killed on the job.ACTU president Sharan Burrow said the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), initiated under the Howard government, was an "abomination".
Unionists have long complained that workers pointing out safety faults at construction sites risk jail if they refuse to cooperate with the ABCC.
"Those coercive powers shouldn't exist in any democracy and they must go," Ms Burrow told a crowd of 2,000 workers who marched on Queensland parliament in Brisbane.
"Workers can be hauled off the job, they can be forced to answer questions."Electrical Trades Union state secretary Peter Simpson told the Brisbane rally that the ABCC remained in existence despite a promise by the Rudd government to get rid of it."They were set up by Howard and they're his version of the Waffen SS (Nazi-era secret police)," Mr Simpson said."They're now Gillard's Gestapo," he added, referring to Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard.
Ms Burrow also called for the "highest possible standards" as Australia moves towards a more streamlined, national approach to occupational health and safety laws.
The federal government and all the states and territories have agreed to review the nine different systems currently in place across the nation.A panel reviewing the laws will produce a draft report at the end of October and a final report in early 2009, and Ms Burrow said the outcome must hand workers the protection they deserve.
Ms Burrow said 7,000 workers died from accidents, work-related injury and disease in 2008 - four times the national road toll."These building workers who build our cities and communities ... deserve better," she said.
Others called for the work-related death toll to be given greater prominence.Unionist Amanda Richards said that while road deaths were reported nightly, industrial deaths weren't given the same prominence, leading to a lack of public awareness.
ABCC head John Lloyd rejected union attempts to link the construction industry's poor health and safety record with the existence of the ABCC."The comments indicate that the ACTU is misinformed about the facts concerning occupational health and safety regulation in the building and construction industry," Mr Lloyd said."The ABCC is not given responsibility for occupational health and safety regulations in the building and construction industry."This rests with state occupational health and safety agencies, Comcare and the Federal Safety Commissioner."
Queensland's industrial relations minister Cameron Dick received loud applause when he accepted a proposal for a Brisbane CBD memorial to workers killed on the job.
In Melbourne, 15,000 workers gathered at the Victorian Trades Hall and were led in a minute's silence.
Across NSW more than 4,000 construction workers observed a minute's silence.About 3,000 workers rallied in Perth while hundreds gathered in Hobart, Adelaide and Darwin.
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