Bechtel Corporation (Bechtel Group) was founded by Warren Bechtel in the early 1900s and is now the largest construction and engineering company in the United States, ranking as the 5th-largest privately owned company in the U.S. Bechtel was contracted to build several liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants on Curtis Island located north of Gladstone in Central Queensland, Australia. Bechtel is now being threatened with court action over an asbestos dispute at the massive project.
The ETU or Electrical Trades Union was created in 1902 and currently represents approximately 17,000 members working in the electrical and communications contracting industry, power, manufacturing, education, hospitality, aerospace, food and other industries. They pride themselves on winning large pay rises, ensuring safe workplaces and enhancing training and employment opportunities. A group of these members set down their tools and refused to continue working at the LNG plants.
Less than one week later, in a Media release dated July 31st 2012, the ETU claims that it has evidence that Bechtel used prefab buildings imported from Indonesia manufacturer Metito that contained the highly toxic, potentially deadly carcinogenic white asbestos. They further stated that as a result of Bechtel’s failure in its duty of care to advise, more than 200 ETU members of the existence of this illegal killer at two of the three Curtis Island operations, at least 90 members have been exposed to the asbestos and have been put at risk. Now the ETU is demanding an investigation into Bechtel for what they are calling a “serious breach of health and safety”.
Australian businesses are banned from importing the material. Customs has refused to comment on how the asbestos was allowed into the country, but now that it is there, 200 ETU members are concerned that they have breathed in the toxic airborne mineral, or they have taken it home on their clothes and exposed loved ones; putting them at risk as well.
The ETU’s demands include revealing the location and extent of Bechtel’s dealings with Metito, the company that supplied the asbestos containing products, and payment of wages that were withheld or docked as a result of the “sit out” or what Bechtel called “participation in unprotected industrial action”. The ETU wants a register of those who had contact with the asbestos. Bechtel says it has maintained a record of the employees working in the contaminated area. They deny knowing that the materials would contain asbestos, and state that it is unlikely to use Metito products in the future.
That latest Media Update provided by the ETU reports positive progress on asbestos issues with Bechtel and appears to be optimistic regarding the still unresolved issue of unpaid wages.