The Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) has called for urgent changes to the way the National Broadband Network (NBN) in Tasmania is built, claiming workers' lives are being put in jeopardy.
CEPU organiser, Nicole Wells, said an incident where a New Zealand worker was electrocuted was merely one example of a dangerous work environment where speed was more important than safety.
“We’re terrified and deeply concerned about it. If something is not done about the way contractors operate on this site, then there will be a fatality or at the very least a serious injury,” she said.
But despite her concerns, Wells was reluctant to consider strike action if the issues aren’t resolved.
She said meetings with Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, and the Tasmanian Premier, David Bartlett, were being sought.
“The industrial relations laws as they stand now make it illegal for workers to take strike action. We want to make sure each worker feels comfortable with what they’re doing,” Wells said. “The last thing anybody wants to see is a worker killed on this rollout. Everybody has the right to go to work and return home uninjured.
“In the depot they parrot these safety messages. But once you’re out on the job it becomes ‘don’t worry about that, time is money – just get it done'.”
A spokesperson for NBN Co CEO, Mike Quigley, said the electrocution incident and five other safety problems had already been dealt with.
“Aurora, in full consultation with NBN Tasmania, decided to suspend work at the end of March,” he said. “Refresher training for all contractors was carried out to reinforce the importance of applying approved work practices in all situations. There have been no further incidents reported since work resumed.
“The way this was handled in Tasmania sends a clear message to all who want to work with NBN Co, breaches of safety will simply not be tolerated.”
But Wells insisted it wasn’t enough and demanded more be done to create a safer working environment.
“I don't think anybody would believe a five-day course would be adequate for a person with no electrical training to work safely on an electrical apparatus,” she said. “A basic electrical awareness course should take a minimum of two weeks.”