The Turnbull government has been accused of covering up details relating to the death of an 18-year-old Work for the Dole participant in Toowoomba, Queensland.
Owen Bennett, president of the Melbourne branch of the Australian Unemployed Workers' Union (AUWU), told BuzzFeed News he's been denied access to a copy of the Work for the Dole risk assessment for the site where Josh Park-Fing died.
Park-Fing died from critical head injuries sustained when he fell from a flatbed trailer being towed by a tractor in April 2016. It’s suspected the tractor slipped a gear and jolted, causing the teen to fall.
At the time he was completing a Work for the Dole program at the Toowoomba Showgrounds arranged by employment contractor NEATO.
Last week BuzzFeed News revealed that the government had still not released the report into the teenager's death, or publicly revealed how workplace safety measures had improved since the accident.
Bennett was told by the Department of Employment that his Freedom of Information request to obtain details of the risk assessment report conducted on the Toowoomba worksite was denied because it contained information that could "harm" NEATO.
The department concluded that information in the report could prejudice the fair treatment of NEATO and adversely affect the company's reputation.
"The Coalition government has deliberately covered up this Work for the Dole risk assessment," Bennett told BuzzFeed News.
Bennett claimed Work for the Dole participants were forced to carry out duties even after they had expressed safety concerns.
He said one person who worked at the site where Park-Fing died alleged that when he expressed concern about driving a tractor, he was told by his supervisor that would face a penalty if he did not do the work.
"We have strong reason to believe that the government [is] refusing to take the necessary steps to make sure Work for the Dole participants are safe," Bennett said.
Bennett said Work for the Dole injuries had increased fivefold under the Coalition's 'jobactive' system. He believed the increase illustrated the culture of fear and intimidation pervading the industry.
Forty three percent of calls made to the AUWU national safety hotline in the 2015-2016 financial year were complaints about being unfairly forced into jobs on Work for the Dole. Thirty percent were to report safety issues on Work for the Dole sites.
In 2015-2016 there were 500 injuries among the 106,000 participants in the Work for the Dole programs, including the death of Park-Fing.
In 2014/15 there were 92 injuries, with 54,000 participants.
Bennett has called on the Coalition to scrap its Work for the Dole and Community Development programs before another death occurs.
A spokesperson for employment minister Michaelia Cash told BuzzFeed News that Workplace Health and Safety Queensland was still investigating the incident and hadn't finalised its report or recommendations.
“It would be inappropriate for the department to release the report or put matters on the public record before Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has completed its investigation," the spokesperson said.
Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.
Contact Alice Workman at email@example.com.
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