By Simon Stokes
WorkSafe WA have announced yet another prosecution of recalcitrant Perth builder, Hanssen Pty Ltd., run by well-known Perth builder Gerry Hanssen. Hanssen is a major builder of apartments in Perth through contracts with housing developers like Finbar Group.
The prosecution is for safety breaches uncovered as a result of the investigation into the death of German backpacker, Marianka Heumann, who fell 13 floors to her death in 2016. Gerry Hanssen was widely criticised at the time for trying to diminish the event and blame the young, inexperienced backpacker for her own death.
While news of the prosecution are welcomed, they do not hold either Gerry Hanssen or Hanssen Pty Ltd accountable for Marianka’s death, but simply prosecute for regulatory failures. In particular, the prosecution is focused on failure to cover open penetrations.
CFMEU WA State Secretary, Mick Buchan, is frustrated but not surprised by the decision to not hold anyone accountable for Marianka’s death.
“When workers and unions even sneeze in the wrong direction they’re prosecuted. But building companies in this country constantly show total contempt for the law and get to just keep going” Mr Buchan said.
“This prosecution should not just be for failing to cover open penetrations. It should be for the abject failure in duty of care. It should be a criminal prosecution for manslaughter. If someone’s driving record was as poor as Hanssen’s safety record then they would be stripped of their license and labelled a monumental threat to public safety. Gerry Hanssen’s record shows a criminal contempt of his workforce and he should be in prison for everything that he’s doing. But instead he’s held up as some sort of business hero in Western Australia by his rich friends and political pals.”
“Right now the CFMEU are the only organisation holding builders to account for criminal breaches of safety, rampant wage theft, and shoddy building practices. The great irony is that, while our government are trying to get their so-called ‘Ensuring Integrity’ union busting legislation through the parliament, the CFMEU is the only organisation that is maintaining any sort on integrity at all in the Australian construction industry.”
“The truth of our industrial system is that its companies like Hanssen who are lawless. They’re criminal in their failure to uphold the safety and dignity of working people.”
“They deliberately prevent their building sites and their business practices from being exposed to the disinfecting light of public scrutiny. And the sad truth is the fines that have been handed down already, and any fines resulting from this prosecution, are probably a tiny fraction of the money Hanssen saves by not adhering to legal safety requirements. So where is the incentive to act within the law?”
Already this year Hannsen Pty Ltd, and Gerry Hannsen himself, have been prosecuted on three separate occasions and fined more than $100,000 for illegally barring entry to duly authorised officials to perform safety inspections on his building sites.
Hanssen Pty Ltd was also fined $47,500 a month ago for failure to provide legally mandated levels of supervision of dangerous tilt up construction on their Vue Tower development on Adelaide Terrace. This resulted in a massive concrete panel falling off the building and crushing cars in a neighbouring carpark. It occurred after Hanssen was twice given improvement notices by Worksafe regarding this exact issue.
The hypocrisy and inconsistency with which the unions and companies are pursued was called out by Mr Buchan in a damning critique and a clear warning to any West Australian developers who try to wash their hands of involvement in the deaths and injuries to workers.
“Worksafe are still not properly funded or equipped to monitor building practices and proactively prosecute builders who break the law. All they can do right now is show up after someone’s already died and try to work out what went wrong. And even that doesn’t always happen” Mr Buchan said.
“Just last month the coroner came out with an absolutely scathing report into the death of a postal worker at the entry to a construction site in Huntingdale. The investigating police officer noted apparent failures to adhere with health and safety laws, but no proper investigation occurred and no company or individual was ever held to account for that death.”
“If the law can’t hold builders to account then we will. We’re are putting Finbar and every other WA developer on notice.”
“If you don’t ensure proper practices on your developments then we’ll bring a full scale public awareness campaign to your site when it comes time to sell your apartments. We’ll loudly and publicly point out every single exploitation, safety breach, underpayment, loss of life and industrial failure your builder has been guilty of.”
“We’ll take all legal avenues to ensure that the public know you have blood on your hands and that you’re profiting from money gouged from the safe, fair and decent treatment of West Australians. So don’t say you haven’t been warned. Because we’ll come for you.”