Why Manmeet’s Day matters to all workers

28 October 2021
Five years ago today Manmeet Alisher was horrifically murdered whilst driving a bus for Brisbane City Council in Moorooka. It was a shocking incident that resonated through the bus driving community, the Indian community and the broader Brisbane and Queensland community. The memories of that tragedy still haunt many and a memorial is being held at Luxworth Place today.

No-one should ever die at work and no-one should ever risk their lives by going to work. As at 14 October 2021, 102 workers had been killed at work in Australia. The most deaths occur in transport, postal and warehousing which includes the industry in which Manmeet worked. Death at work is not isolated to any one particular industry and occurs across many, including agriculture, construction, manufacturing and mining. Many more people are seriously injured at work, some of them being unable to ever work again.

I know from 20 years working in a plaintiff law firm that anyone can be injured at work, in any type of industry. Though as evidence given at a Commonwealth Senate inquiry into job security this month showed, it is often the case that migrant workers end up facing particularly poor conditions for a number of different reasons. One major reason is that because of their temporary visa status they are afraid to challenge their employers. Other reasons are that English may not be their first language, they may be unaware of their rights and by the time they agitate their rights their visas may come to an end.

Many migrants end up as so-called independent contractors for juggernauts like Uber Eats or Amazon with huge pressures to make deliveries, payments as low as $8 a trip and no workers compensation insurance from the head company. Last year five food delivery riders died within 2 months.

The Queensland Government passed industrial manslaughter laws that make the death of workers at work a crime where the employer is reckless or negligent. Senior officers of companies can be jailed for this offence. That type of legislative change is one way to bring about safer workplaces.  

Prior to and after Manmeet’s death his Union, the RTBU have been agitating to ensure better protections for bus drivers. Statistical evidence shows that unionised workplaces are safer and more likely to have safety issues brought to light. Hence strong unions are another way to ensure safer workplaces. Another change would be laws that gave employment status to workers in the gig economy.

These and other changes are necessary as clearly we need to do more to ensure that death or serious injury at work is not just a cost of doing business.

By Giri Sivaraman 

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