Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

“No Place for Tourists”: Deaths on Western Australian Construction Sites

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (2020), 119, (1), 115–142.


The deaths of three young “backpackers” on Perth building sites is the starting point for this investigation of an industry that is ranked the third most dangerous in Western Australia. All were on a working holiday. They were unskilled, untrained and underpaid, revealing aspects of the construction industry since the beginning of the twenty-first century. The article suggests these fatalities are occurring, despite OHS reforms and mandatory training, because the decline of trade union rights and presence on work sites has led to inadequate policing and enforcement of safety measures. Deregulation and employers’ over-emphasis on productivity have resulted in an unskilled, casual workforce and a culture of blaming individual employees rather than management, which has created a climate of fear where those who draw attention to safety breaches risk losing their jobs. The article considers arguments for introducing industrial manslaughter legislation, but the evidence suggests that the most effective solutions are to restore union rights. This would encourage a culture in which workers have a voice, and pointing out safety breaches on sites could be rewarded, rather than penalised.

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Author details

Oliver, Bobbie