Union demands manslaughter charges and jail time in wake of Victoria mine collapse

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
4 Min Read

The Australian Worker’s Union has demanded manslaughter charges and jail sentences be brought on the operators of a Victorian mine after a worker died last week.

37-old-miner Kurt Hourigan was killed and another worker critically injured after a rockfall at the Ballarat Victory Mineral’s mine last Wednesday. 

The pair were working 500 meters underground when they were pinned underneath collapsed rocks while conducting a controversial manual mining practice called “air-legging”, which is outlawed at most modern mining operations due to its safety risks.

Despite the death, which is the state’s 12th workplace fatality in 2024, WorkSafe Victoria reopened the mine just one day after the incident occurred, causing further distress to the victim’s family and site workers.

Union: ‘Mine was conducting unsafe practices’ 

The AWU has called on the Victorian workplace health and safety regulator to throw the book at Victory Minerals, which claims to be operating unsafe mining practices. 

“Air legging, which is basically two blokes operating a drill, is not a safe mining technique and one which the mine operator, Victory Minerals, only just re-introduced despite most modern mining operations banning the practice because it’s unsafe,” AWU Victorian Secretary Ronnie Hayden said.  

“Absolutely, we need to give miners and their families in Ballarat time to grieve, but we also need to see timely justice; WorkSafe needs to investigate this and bring charges against the individuals responsible.” 

Mr Hayden called out WorkSafe Victoria for failing to secure jail time for any workplace operator since new Industrial Manslaughter laws, piling the pressure on the regulator to charge the gold mine operator. 

“There have been 169 Victorians killed at work since these laws were introduced, and not a second of jail time has resulted; that’s a joke. We need an effective deterrent here. We need to see decision-makers getting custodial sentences, and I can’t put it any clearer than that,” he said. 

“We public need to see our new industrial manslaughter laws used here; it needs to be crystal clear: if one of your workers dies because of your decision, you will do jail time, simple as that.

“But that’s not what we see, time and again, workers get killed at work, and then there are just ongoing court cases, just years-long lawyers’ picnics and no one is ever held to account. I’m sick of it.

 Victoria’s workplace manslaughter laws

  • Came into effect in 2020
  • Maximum penalty of 25 years in jail for individuals 
  • Fines of over $19 million for companies
  • 169 Victorians killed at work since these laws were introduced
  • No jail time has been served since the law’s introduction 

AWU national secretary Paul Farrow echoed those sentiments, stating that while members were in shock and grieving, they still wanted swift justice.

“Our members are livid about this. It’s time dodgy employers felt the full force of the law,” said Mr Farrow.

“It needs to be understood if someone at your worksite dies as a result of a decision you’ve made, you’re going to jail. I think the public would be shocked to find out it rarely happens.” 

 WorkSafe Victoria confirmed in a statement that the cause of death was due to a rockfall. 

They said that despite the death, statistics showed workplaces in the state were safer than last year. 

“The death is the 10th confirmed workplace fatality for 2024. There were 14 work-related deaths at the same time last year.” A spokesperson said. 

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.