Union protest: workers lives ‘forfeited’ in unsafe workplaces

The Maritime Union of Australia led a protest in Darwin on 8 February, calling for the resignation of the head of NT WorkSafe, Stephen Gelding.

The protest highlighted the failure of the agency to respond to a series of workplace accidents, some fatal. Most recently, a seafarer died after falling from a barge in the Hudson Creek area. The wharf at Hudson Creek was known to be dangerous, and the MUA has been calling for corrective action since 2014, when a part of the wharf collapsed.

“We raised our concern with the structural integrity of the infrastructure, yet NT WorkSafe refused to inspect, condemn or modify the operational area”, said MUA NT branch secretary Thomas Mayer. “NT WorkSafe wrote no penalties to the owner/operator of Shorelands, who also sits on the NT WorkSafe advisory board.”

It’s not just Hudson Creek. In 2013, Ryan Donoghue, 20, was electrocuted while working on a prawn trawler in the Gulf of Carpentaria. He was using an angle grinder onboard when the trawler was hit by a wave. Ryan’s employer, Austral Fisheries, had failed to equip the boat’s power supply with a basic safety switch – a device that probably would have saved his life. NT WorkSafe took no action against the company.

Charged with investigating Ryan’s death, NT coroner Greg Cavanagh issued a blistering attack in his report, released last year. “Ryan’s life was forfeited due to the failure to provide a safe workplace”, he said. “It would have been prevented if there was even a modicum of compliance with the law. There was not.” The coroner also took aim at the lack of action after his death, saying it “beggars belief and is shameful”.

Coroner Cavanagh referred the case back to NT WorkSafe for “further and better consideration”. To date, no action has ever been taken to punish Ryan’s employer.