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Safety concerns at Chinese embassy

The Chinese Embassy site in Yarralumla.

The Chinese Embassy site in Yarralumla. Photo: Jay Cronan

Unions are concerned that any Australian worker injured on the construction site for the new Chinese embassy in Canberra may not have access to compensation.

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union ACT secretary Dean Hall said on Monday he had discovered Australian workers were delivering concrete and other supplies onto the secretive site, contrary to earlier assurances.

''If there is an accident, those Australian workers and their employers have no coverage for compensation of any form,'' he said.

CFMEU ACT Secretary, Dean Hall.

CFMEU ACT Secretary, Dean Hall.

ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe said he was powerless to act against allegations of unsafe work practices on the secretive site.

The Canberra Times revealed in November 2011 the federal government had granted diplomatic visas to dozens of Chinese construction workers building the extension to the Yarralumla embassy, placing the crew members out of reach of Australian employment laws.

The CFMEU expressed concerns at the time about whether Australian safety standards could be enforced on the site across the road from the main Chinese embassy complex.

Australia has struck a reciprocal deal for any future work on the Australian embassy in Beijing, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on Monday night.

A spokeswoman said the department had taken up safety issues with the Chinese embassy at least twice.

Mr Hall said his union had been originally told Australian workers would not be required to enter the site to deliver concrete. ''We were told that wasn't going to happen because they were going to batch their own concrete, but it does happen and we've witnessed it.

''When I was approached by a Chinese diplomat [outside the site], I asked him what happens if there is an accident and an Australian worker is seriously injured or killed. I said there would be big problems around compensation and families wanting someone to be prosecuted.

''His response was, 'If that happened, we'd just claim diplomatic immunity'.''

The deal to allow China to bring in workers on diplomatic visas follows the revelation in the mid-1990s that Australia had bugged the original embassy when it was built in the 1970s.

Mr Hall said China could have employed local contractors as the US did for an extension to its embassy in Canberra.

9 comments

  • When it was built in the 1970s? Are you sure?

    Commenter
    Al
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    June 25, 2013, 8:31AM
    • To begin with, the Chinese Embassy wasn't built in the mid -70s at all. Rather in the early 90s. I well remember the kerfuffle and embarrassment when they discovered that Australia was bugging the place, passing info across to the UK High Commission and relaying it up the road to the non-descript ASIO building for later transmission to the USA. This makes it sheer hypocrisy for Australia to join the current outrage over China hacking our secrets. What's good for the goose....etc

      Commenter
      Ronalso
      Date and time
      June 25, 2013, 8:45AM
      • spot on!!!!!

        Commenter
        smilingjack
        Date and time
        June 25, 2013, 3:19PM
    • Once bitten, twice shy is the expression and correctly explains why the new Chinese Embassy is being built without use of local construction workers - has nothing to do with ability of local people to do the work and it has everything to do with trust between nations. Trust and respect are priceless commodities and once squandered are hard to regain. We would expect and demand that our own diplomats can work safely, privately and securely in our own Embassies no matter where they are located;obviously other nations have the same expectation. Given the present Embassy construction arrangements were agreed between the two Governments, it follows that any local suppliers requested by the Embassy to deliver on-site would need to be extra vigilant with their own safety, and that the Commonwealth itself, being party to the agreement, would step in as the responsible party should something happen.

      Commenter
      Anton
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      June 25, 2013, 10:19AM
      • Didn't Mr Hall know that China does not have the same level of relationship with Australia as the US? Or that the NSA can set up shop opposite the embassy in question at a moment's notice?

        Commenter
        thomas
        Date and time
        June 25, 2013, 10:38AM
        • Australian workers?

          Commenter
          SHUT UP I'M INTERUPTING
          Date and time
          June 25, 2013, 12:29PM
          • is that razor wire fence meant to keep the workers inside the compound??? scary!

            Commenter
            yatalaboy
            Location
            Gold Coast
            Date and time
            June 25, 2013, 1:24PM
            • It all depends if the Chinese Embassy has the appropriate insurance cover in respect of all locally engaged staff and this is the question Mr. Hall should be asking.
              As the Law stands, locally engaged staff employed by diplomatic missions and consular posts can sue their employer for compensation in accordance with the Foreign States Immunities Act 1985 in respect of work-related injury or illness and Courts frequently award very large payments

              Commenter
              Aussi in China
              Date and time
              June 25, 2013, 3:45PM
              • Yes, on my last visit to Canberra, that fence looks very unfriendly. Why is the physical security such a big issue? Do they have large dogs prowling at night, shoot-to-kill guards, it's very disturbing.

                Commenter
                Ronalso
                Date and time
                June 25, 2013, 9:03PM
                Comments are now closed
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