Condong sugar mill is one of three Northern NSW mills where officials from the CFMEU and ETU have inspected for asbestos.
Condong sugar mill is one of three Northern NSW mills where officials from the CFMEU and ETU have inspected for asbestos. Jodie Nash

Sunshine Sugar mill claims 'ridiculous': union

THE Electrical Trades Union have spoken against claims of bullying from Sunshine Sugar, who said they were annoyed at the conduct of the ETA during visits to the sites.

Officials from the CFMEU and ETU have inspected the Condong, Broadwater and Harwood mills owned by Sunshine Sugar and are urging the company to take immediate action to remove asbestos found at some of the sites.

CFMEU Organiser Dean Rielly said they firstly investigated a suspected breach under section 117 of Work Health And Safety Act after it was reported to the union by workers that they were scared to speak up about work health and safety issues.

"When we investigated we found....a bad culture of bullying and harassment in the mills and management were threatening workers with their jobs," Mr Reilly said.

He said the unions then consulted with workers in each mill to see who was being affected, but whilst they were investigating they noticed asbestos.

Mr Rielly said upon further inspection the Harwood mill had it under control with policies in place and there was no issue there, but the other two mills were not up to the standard required.

Among concerns the unions have raised is that broken asbestos sheeting is present in lunch rooms where the workers gather every day.

Mr Rielly said if Sunshine Sugar management were so happy with their response to the issue they should join the workers in the lunchroom and eat with them.

"We know it can take just one asbestos fibre inhaled into the lungs and a worker faces a death sentence 30 years down the track," he said.

"It is scandalous that in a modern working environment - when we know the risks asbestos poses - that management would be so reckless with workers' lives."

CFMEU Organiser Paul Fitzpatrick said company claims the issue was overblown were outrageous.

He said the company was intimidating workers and the CFMEU had been told by management that "any worker who complained would be sacked".

"This is not the kind of response you would expect around such a critical safety issue," he said.

Mr Rielly also said the push back from Sunshine Sugar management was "ridiculous" and they "do not tolerate any company not doing their due diligence towards the workforce".

He said if they are not complying with health and safety regulations they will make them accountable.

The mills employ more than 200 local workers.

Mr Rielly said moving forward the unions are getting together to create a strategy to put to Sunshine Sugar management to rectify the issue, and working with SafeWork NSW along the way.

"We went to see one of the managers at the Broadwater mill...he took details down as to what we expected to move forward and what the plan was going to be (for asbestos removal and remediation)," he said.

Managment were reported to have put in atmospheric testing to detect if there were fibres in the air in workspaces and located and implemented sealing of the asbestos.

"The long term result out of all the sugar mills would be the union would be asking if they can get rid of the asbestos altogether," he said.

Under the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 a person conducting a business or undertaking at a workplace must ensure the exposure standard for asbestos is not exceeded at the workplace; and a person with management or control of a workplace must ensure so far as is reasonably practicable, that all asbestos at the workplace is identified by a competent person and an asbestos register is prepared and kept at the workplace.

The maximum penalty in the case of an individual is $6000 or in the case of a body corporate is $30,000.



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