“Why has no one ever been punished for the names on this wall?”
It was the impassioned question asked by CFMEU district president Peter Jordan at the CFMEU Northern Mining & NSW Energy District’s annual memorial day service at Cessnock on Sunday.
The wall he referred to was the Jim Comerford Memorial Wall, which lists the names of the 1803 men, women and boys who have lost their lives in the district’s mines.
This year, another name was added to the wall – that of Stephen Norman, who was killed after an accident at Rix’s Creek Mine near Singleton on December 13, 2016. Mr Norman’s family were an emotional presence at the service.
A safety lamp, which was delivered by Rix’s Creek Lodge representative Chad Lynch, was front and centre at the service as a tribute to Mr Norman.
Mr Jordan said the day was a solemn reminder of the high risk nature of coal mining.
He acknowledged the industry had worked towards world-class health and safety laws, but said they were not good enough.
“We have to question the strength of our current health and safety laws, the effectiveness of our regulator, the lack of compliance by some of the industry and the inability of the coal industry of preventing workplace deaths, injury, illness and disease,” he said.
“Because under no circumstances can we accept that we are anywhere near having world class health and safety for mine workers while the industry is still failing to prevent workplace death injury, illness and disease.”
He said there had been 29 mining fatalities since the wall was constructed 22 years ago, including 17 fatalities in 17 years.
“That is simply not acceptable, it can’t be acceptable and it’s an unforgivable stain on our industry,” he said.
“The laws have to be toughened and the industry held accountable until there are no more names added to this wall and that there are no more serious bodily injuries, illness or disease.”
His sentiments were echoed by keynote speaker, CFMEU mining and energy division general secretary Andrew Vickers.
Mr Vickers said it was sad, tragic and unforgiveable that another name had been added to the wall.
He said mining memorials honoured those who paid the ultimate sacrifice just trying to make a decent living.
“None of them asked to or wanted to die in that pursuit,” he said. “None of them deserved to pay that ultimate sacrifice, but they did and it behooves all of us to strive to ensure that not one of them died in vein.
“We must continue to lobby and fight to improve the laws and rules that govern working in our mines.”
Mr Vickers said it was galling that not one prison sentence had been applied to match any of the 1,803 names.
“If a prison term is considered to be the appropriate penalty in deterring a wide range of crime… surely not providing a safe place of work or not complying with laws and regulations, thus resulting in the death of a worker, should also carry with it the very real prospect of a prison term,” he said.
“Or is a workers life not considered worthy of such a prospect? I for one consider it to be worthy.
“Let us hope that those who we remember today have not lost their lives in vein and that the industry can become safe enough so that no more lives are lost.”