MAC: Mines and Communities

Australian union declares uranium to be the new "asbestos"

Published by MAC on 2010-06-19
Source: AAP

A quarter of a century ago, Australian workers led the battle to prevent the opening of new uranium mines, and export of their product. Over the following years, not least because of betrayals by the Australian Labor Party, the unity fell apart.

Australia not only became the world's third major source of the deadly material, but a site for two of the biggest uranium mines in the world.

Now a major domestic union has banned its members from working in the mines - or any part of the nuclear process - in an attempt to "starve" the industry out.

Union plan to starve industry of labour

By Steve Gray


1 June 2010

A major union expects others to join its campaign to "starve" Australia's uranium industry of workers.

The Electrical Trades Union has banned its members from working on uranium mines, nuclear power stations or any other part of the nuclear fuel cycle.

The ETU says other unions have expressed strong support for the campaign against uranium, which it has labelled the "new asbestos" of the workplace.

"We're sick of hearing about nuclear power as the panacea of global warming, we're sick of people sweeping safety issues under the carpet," ETU secretary Peter Simpson said on Tuesday.

"Our view is there's enough ETU labour in the place ... that we'll be able to starve the industry out."

He was speaking at the launch in Brisbane of an anti-uranium DVD, When the Dust Settles, alongside pediatrician and activist Dr Helen Caldicott.

The DVD, to be sent to ETU members in Queensland and the Northern Territory, is a warning about the health risks the union says come with working with uranium.

Mr Simpson said Australian workers had already faced decades of exposure, and uranium was the new asbestos of the workplace.

"Over the next 10 or 15 years we're going to see the downside of (uranium)," he said.

"They've had 30 years to pretty much do what they like and we believe now's the time to put the line in the sand.

"... we want to get all unions and all community groups on board and start taking the fight back up to the uranium industry."

He declined to name the two unions he said were supporting the ETU's campaign.

Dr Caldicott said Australia's uranium export industry meant the nation was "selling cancer and we're selling nuclear weapons".

She said Muckaty Station, near Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory, would likely become a nuclear waste dump and eventually the waste would leak into the environment and food chain.

"It's random compulsory genetic engineering for the rest of time," she said.

The Australian Uranium Association has rejected claims that radiation exposure poses a significant risk to workers.

It also said the ETU's threat to expel members who contravene its work ban could breach the Fair Work Act.

"Uranium mines are safe workplaces," the association's CEO Michael Angwin said.

"Mine operators and mine employees work together, using the right equipment and designated procedures, to ensure that radiation exposure is kept to the minimum."

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