SYDNEY — Chanting “Union power!” over 1,000 workers marched through the central city here and rallied at the New South Wales state parliament April 5. The protest was part of a national day of action demanding a ban on the manufacture and use of engineered stone products that produce silica dust.
“Silica is killing our workers throughout the country,” said Darren Greenfield, New South Wales state secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union. This rally kicked off a national campaign to end silica production, he said.
Silica dust is a common hazard when working in construction, tunneling, quarrying, excavating, mining, road construction and some manufacturing. It is a danger when cutting engineered stone to install kitchen and bathroom countertops. The fine particles can cause silicosis, the potentially fatal scarring of the lungs, and lung cancer.
Some 600,000 workers in Australia are exposed to silica dust at work, of whom about 350 will contract silicosis and 230 lung cancer each year.
“Unions were at the forefront of the fight to ban asbestos, and we will be at the forefront of the fight to ban silica stone,” New South Wales assistant secretary of the Plumbers Union, Chris Seet, told the rally.
Large protests by Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union members and other unionists took place the same day in Brisbane, Melbourne and other Australian cities.
At the rallies its leaders also called for cost-of-living wage increases for workers to counter rising inflation. “We are in the midst of the most serious cost-of-living crisis in decades,” CFMEU National Secretary Zach Smith said in a statement released by the union.