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    Sydney Opera House asbestos dispute continues to hit the wrong note with unions

    Branko Miletic

    According to reports, the asbestos found during a major renovation of the Sydney Opera House recently has resulted in work stopping on the project after unions and management failed to find an agreement over the issue, the unions involved have claimed. 

    Unions have also accused builder Laing O'Rourke of walking away from an agreement that would allow a collective meeting of all workers on the project to discuss the issue. 

    According to Electrical Trades Union (ETU) NSW assistant secretary Justin Page, “Yesterday, management from Laing O'Rourke agreed to the recommendation of the site safety committee that an independent expert be brought in to properly assess the asbestos risk and ensure appropriate training and work practices were in place, yet when the industrial hygienist arrived this morning she was refused access.”

    “The company also reneged on an agreement that all workers on this $200 million project could hold a collective meeting with their unions to discuss their ongoing safety concerns,” he says.

    CFMEU NSW secretary Brian Parker says, “All these workers want is a safe workplace. They shouldn’t have to fight to ensure that asbestos testing has been conducted by an independent expert, that proper training and work practices are in place, and that the risk of inhaling this cancer-causing substance has been addressed. 

    Well-known to cause incurable mesothelioma, there is absolutely no safe level of exposure to asbestos fibres.

    According to the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute (ADRI), since the late 1990s, approximately 600 people a year have been newly diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in Australia. The total number of new mesothelioma cases in Australia between 1982 and 2009 was 11,667 and the total number of people who died from mesothelioma between 1997 and 2009 was 6,492.

    The latest figures from the Australian Mesothelioma Registry (AMR) show that between 2011 and 2015, 2899 Australian died from mesothelioma.

    ADRI notes that there is a less than 10 percent chance of surviving up to five years following a mesothelioma diagnosis, and despite research efforts into different treatment options, there has been little change in the survival rate over the last two decades.

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