LETTER: Union leader challenges criticism of COVID-19 preparation comments

Brad Coates, CFMMEU Greater Green Triangle district secretary

I WISH to respond to a letter from Wendy Fennell (The Border Watch, Friday, March 27) in which Ms Fennell made some statements about me which are false.

Ms Fennell claims I referred to truck drivers being a bit blasé over the situation of border restrictions.

The statement made in The Border Watch was “while the timber industry had swept in a raft of COVID 19 measure to protect workers, Mr Coates said some forestry and timber workers appeared to be complacent over the developing crisis”.

“I have spoken to some people and they seem a bit blasé over the situation,” I was quoted as saying.

I am not sure how Ms Fennell extracted “truck drivers” from that statement and appears to have a view that I was personally attacking her company.

The truth is that statement was made when I was questioned about the state of the industry.

I responded in this way as the CFMMEU had conducted a large number of small meetings at major manufacturing sites over the week and a small number workers appeared to be not taking the health risk seriously, as reflected in the general community.

Truck drivers or Fennell Forestry were never mentioned and while I understand there are employers who have a negative opinion of the union, most people who know me, acknowledge that I regularly put on my ‘big boy pants’ and tell it how it is.

If I had an issue with Fennells or truck drivers there would be no doubt in their mind as they would have been approached formally.

I take workplace safety very seriously.

I think the most disappointing fact in Ms Fennell’s untruthful public comment about me is that she is the chairperson of the State Government’s Forest Industry Advisory Group, which should be providing leadership and co-operation with all stakeholders in the industry at this time.

I really appreciate the calls from other employers in the region last Friday reassuring me the union was playing an important and proactive role in ensuring workers and employers had strong protocols and action in place to minimise the health risk to the workforce.

The CFMMEU has stood side by side (social distancing in place) with employers at meetings to ensure everyone receives support and a consistent message that this situation is extremely serious.

Following a phone interview with The Border Watch journalist, there was a request for a photograph for the pending article which I respectively declined, despite being asked multiple times, as I deemed it to be an unnecessary risk in the circumstances, taking social distancing very seriously.

I again reinforce my comments made in the article “people’s health must be paramount during this unprecedented emergency and any shutdown of the regional timber industry would have a massive impact on the regional economy given it underpinned thousands of jobs”.

I will finish by repeating the last comment made by myself in the article: “We need to put personal feeling to one side, be a bit forgiving and help other people.”
Stay safe.

Brad Coates

CFMMEU Greater Green Triangle district secretary

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