THE families of the two men killed in a trench collapse in Delacombe in March have welcomed a Labor Party promise to change laws so that employers face criminal charges if found negligent in workplace deaths.
Premier Daniel Andrews has met with the families of Charlie Howkins and Jack Brownlee and promised that, should Labor win another term in government, he would change legislation to increase penalties against employers found negligent.
Under the proposed new law, employers will face fines of almost $16 million and those individuals responsible for negligently causing death could face up to 20 years in jail.
Lana Cormie, the wife of Charlie Howkins, said as the law stands it was difficult to press criminal charges against employers.
“Basically the penalty for the offences are insufficient and don’t amount to anything more than a slap on the wrist,” Ms Cormie said.
“Bosses need to be held accountable with real penalties that are actually meaningful so no more children lose their dads,” she said.
“We need to make sure there is the right training, safety measures in place and a culture in all workplaces that is pro occupational health and safety.”
“It gives us hope the world can change and become a better place for all workers.”
Dave Brownlee, Jack’s father, said it was clear the Premier had both families interests at heart.
“He gave us his time and listened to our story and he could see straight away there was something wrong with the laws,” Mr Brownlee said.
“We don’t want this to happen to anyone. When people go to work, they should come home.”
Speaking at the Victorian Labor State Conference on Saturday, Mr Andrews made a direct promise to the families of the two men that employers must be held accountable for workplace safety.
“Life was just beginning for Jack Brownlee, he was 21 years old, he was a loyal mate, a loved son and brother, and a faithful Blues supporter,” Mr Andrew said.
“His workmate, Charlie Howkins, was a husband and father of two. A builder, Charlie could make anything. But his real life purpose was his family. It’s why he took a job as a trench digger. It provided the steady income his young family needed.”
Mr Andrews said he would never forget the conversation he had with the families.
“Lana, Dave and Janine, I will never be able to fully explain your strength. I will never be able to fully do justice to your story,” he said.
“I will never, ever forget Janine’s words: “They just went to work. They were just doing their job. Jack and Charlie, they should have come home.”
“While their deaths are still being investigated – and we don’t yet know exactly what happened - we do know that it should never have happened.”
Mr Andrews said it wasn’t right that up to 30 people every year die in workplace accidents.
“The penalty must be a strong enough deterrent to make employers take workplace safety seriously, and not rely on deep pockets to avoid accountability, while cutting corners on safety,” he said.
Mr Andrews said the government would create an Implementation Taskforce, including business and unions, to consult on the detail of the proposed laws.
Mr Brownlee said the families would never stop fighting for justice for all workers.
“It’s very tough, you’d like to say you cope day-by-day, but in truth it’s hour-by-hour,” he said.
“We will always support something that supports workers and hope that no one else has to go through what we are going through.”