AEU Victoria acknowledges International Workers Memorial Day

Representatives from AEU Victoria have attended a touching service commemorating workers killed on the job during the past year. More than 25 workers died in industrial accidents over the last 12 months — a figure that doesn’t include those who died from work-related illnesses, road accidents or depression related to workplace stress.

The AEU joined other unions in laying a wreath at the memorial stone outside Victorian Trades Hall, after hearing an emotional statement from the widow of a young man killed in the recent trench collapse at Ballarat , as well as speeches from ACTU spokespeople and Victorian minister for finance and multicultural affairs, Robin Scott. All agreed that we need to commit to protecting the living while remembering the dead.

Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Luke Hilakari said the day was a tough one for the union movement, which would continue to fight to improve safety in the workplace even as it mourned those lost. Victoria has better safety regulations than many states, he said, largely because of past union action. He called for harsher penalties for bosses whose negligence costs workers’ lives and reiterated the importance of the current union campaign for industrial manslaughter laws.

“There is not enough incentive for bosses to protect workers lives,” Hilakari said. “Industrial manslaughter laws already exist in Queensland and the ACT, Victorians need them here now.”

Following the speeches, ACTU workers commemorated each person killed at work by laying a pair of boots or shoes on one of 26 pine stools.

Hilakari stressed that the actual figure for those who died last year from work-related issues has been estimated to be as high as 200. This is significant as, while fatal accidents in school are thankfully rare, AEU members are often at risk of illness or death brought about by their working conditions.

We're pushing the Andrews government to honour its pledge to remove asbestos from all Victorian state schools by 2020. This has a new urgency in the light of a disturbing study from the UK that shows teachers working in asbestos-contaminated schools are at significant risk of dying from mesothelioma (92 teachers died between 2001 and 2005). 

An initial audit of Victorian public schools found one third contained ‘high risk’ asbestos. The AEU has campaigned long and hard to have asbestos removed from all schools buildings and will continue to hold the state government to account.