Stop Indian Trade Talks to Stop Asbestos Problem Becoming Worse: CFMEU

Published: 5 Aug 2016

The CFMEU is calling for an urgent halt to the Government’s free trade talks with India due to the risk of even more deadly asbestos flooding into Australia. 

The union has written to Trade Minister Steven Ciobo calling for an immediate and urgent suspension of negotiations. 

The call follows the spike of imported building products from China including asbestos contaminated roof panels discovered during the construction of a children’s hospital in Perth. 

The Australian Border Force testified to a Senate Inquiry Committee last year that it had identified India as one of the high-risk countries for asbestos exports to Australia. 

CFMEU Construction National Secretary Mr Dave Noonan said: 

“India is the second largest manufacturer of products made with asbestos in the world. It uses asbestos in the manufacture of products including building materials like cement roofing sheets, wall panels and pipes and auto components like brakes, clutches and brake linings.

“Australia’s system of protection against imported products loaded with asbestos is broken, as recent detections by our union have proven.  

“A trade agreement with India would allow the easier entry of products with asbestos to Australia. Unless border protection is strengthen and significantly better resources, this would be a disaster.” 

Earlier this year, India sided with leading asbestos exporter Russia in a UN meeting to block the listing of cancer causing chrysotile (white asbestos) to a list of dangerous substances subject to export restrictions.

“India is the second largest manufacturer -  next to China - of products made with asbestos and frankly, they don’t take asbestos exposure seriously.” 

According to recent reports, more than 50 factories in India use asbestos to make building products like cement roofing sheets, wall panels and pipes and the use of asbestos in the manufacture of auto components like brakes, clutches and brake linings is widespread. 

“These products will flow to Australia if we grant India a trade agreement, just like we are finding with Chinese products made with asbestos following the agreement ratified last year.” 
The Senate Inquiry’s interim report stated: The importation of banned materials, such as asbestos, raises very serious concerns about the capacity of Australian authorities to deal with this issue, particularly in light of our open and dynamic trade environment.

“Given the extremely serious consequences of asbestos exposure, until an adequate regime of border protection capable of stopping asbestos is agreed with the union and implemented, along with additional safeguards inserted in trade agreements to deal with high risk products from high risk countries, a trade agreement with India cannot be considered in Australia’s national interest” said Mr Noonan. 

In another development yesterday, the CFMEU called on Mr Dutton to do his job as the Minister responsible for stopping illegal importation of asbestos and cease blaming the union.

Referring to an interview on Sydney radio where Mr Dutton said that high wages negotiated by the CFMEU was ‘driving builders to use this product’, Mr Noonan said it was disgraceful that the Minister was excusing illegal behaviour.

“As the minister tasked with enforcing the law and protecting the Australian people from poisonous material, he should be prosecuting those putting workers and the community at risk, not justifying illegal activity.”

The CFMEU encourages any worker who believes they may have been exposed to asbsestos to record the details on the National Asbestos Exposure Register here.