Why we will never take a backward step
AT 11.40pm on 7 August 1994, the ground under Moura in central Queensland was rocked by a huge explosion.
A crew of 11 were working 265 metres in an underground coal mine when the blast occurred. They all perished.
It was the third disaster to strike the Moura community in less than 20 years. Thirteen men had been killed at Kianga on 20 September 1976, and 12 men at Moura No. 4 mine on 16 July 1986 – 28 years ago today.
The Moura community has paid a high price in lost lives for the coal that has come out of the ground there.
Early next month, a special 20th anniversary memorial service will be held for the victims of the Moura No. 2 explosion.
As Vice-President of the Queensland District of the CFMEU Mining and Energy Division, Glenn Power, says: “We must never allow the nation to forget the price workers have paid and the burden of death and injuries that their families still carry to this day.
“Our union will always honour their memory and in doing so redouble our efforts to keep this industry as safe as possible for all who work in it. We must remain vigilant in maintaining and improving our world’s best practice statutory coal mining safety and health legislation.”
Deaths are still occurring
Tragically, coal miners are still dying at work – here in Australia, and around the world.
This year, three Australian coal miners – two at the Austar Mine in the Hunter Valley and one at Anglo American’s Grasstree Mine in central Queensland – have been killed.
And 301 miners were killed following an explosion at a coal mine at Soma in Turkey on 13 May.
These tragedies are an emphatic reminder that there is no more important issue for our Union than safety and health.
Right across our entire CFMEU membership, we work in the most dangerous industries in Australia.
According to official figures, workers in our mining, construction and forestry industries have a 50% higher rate of injury and death than all other industries combined.
That is why the CFMEU recently launched our new work safety campaign ‘Stand Up. Speak Out. Come Home.’ on Workers Memorial Day, 28 April.
But a real campaign needs to be much more than a snappy and effective slogan. It needs muscle. It needs determination.
And on an issue like safety that is a matter of life and death for us, it means an unrelenting commitment to making our workplaces the safest they possibly can be.
It means standing up, speaking out and being prepared to take action where it is needed to stop unsafe practices and management demands that put production ahead of safety.
Big business cannot be left to their own devices
If left to their own devices, big business will put their economic interests first and foremost. We see it in industries and in countries where there is little or no union presence. Risk taking is part of normal practice and workers pay an horrific price.
We saw it recently at New Zealand’s Pike River. We see it in the growing epidemic of Black Lung among young coal miners at non-union operations in the US.
We saw it most blatantly in the arrogant disregard of the Turkish Prime Minister a few weeks ago who told the families of the 301 miners who perished in the Soma disaster: “It is the destiny of your profession to die in the mines”. Never as far as we’re concerned, Mr Prime Minister.
We declare it to be the right of every miner, everywhere, to return at the end of their shifts to the loving arms of their family.
The Turkish tragedy is the result of continued disregard for workers safety by governments, corporations and management of safety in the mines, just like Pike River was and just as the last spate of US coal mine tragedies were.
That we haven’t fortunately experienced anything on that scale in a long time in Australia is no accident. It is because we have a strong union that will always “stand up and speak out” on safety so that we can “come home” to our families.
This article was first published in the June-July 2014 edition of the CFMEU Mining and Energy Division journal, Common Cause.
Working Life is a forum to share ideas and opinions about work and life, both light-hearted and serious. The opinions presented on Working Life are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent policies or views of the ACTU.