More than 500 workers at Blacktown City Council — including outdoor maintenance staff and garbage collectors — have stopped work due to safety concerns regarding the use of glyphosate following a series of legal cases linking the controversial weedkiller to cancer.
Outdoor staff at Blacktown last month refused to continue using glyphosate sprays — including the leading Roundup brand — and urged management to follow the lead of Fairfield, Randwick, Georges River, and Wollongong councils which have banned the product and begun trialling safer alternatives.
The dispute escalated today after management ordered six staff to use the product or face being forced into alternate jobs. Outdoor staff responded by halting work and returning to their depots, leaving more than 10,000 bins uncollected.
More than 500 workers will tomorrow morning meet to decide whether to continue their safety stoppage or return to work.
The extensive use of glyphosate in public areas has been in the spotlight following a series of court cases in the US, where manufacturer Monsanto was ordered to pay almost $3 billion in compensation. In Australian, a gardener last month lodged a case in the Victorian Supreme Court alleging his cancer was caused by years of exposure to the weedkiller.
United Services Union general secretary Graeme Kelly OAM said workers were understandably concerned about the cancer risks, which this week led to the Austrian parliament voting to completely ban glyphosate use.
“Around the world, governments, companies, and individuals are abandoning the use of glyphosate because of the growing evidence that it is responsible for causing cancer,” Mr Kelly said.
“Yet management at Blacktown City Council have refused to listen to these concerns, instead attempting to stand over workers to force them to use a potentially dangerous product.
“In the last month, four large NSW councils have stopped using glyphosate and commenced trialling the use of safer alternative products, yet workers conducting weed spraying at Blacktown weren’t provided with appropriate safety masks until last week.
“Blacktown’s General Manager is instead digging his heels in, telling the union this week that Council won’t stop using this cancer-causing product or trial alternatives ‘on principle’.
“Blacktown Council has also refused to follow the lead of other councils by including a coloured dye with the spray, which would allow the public to know exactly where glyphosate has been used.
“Blacktown Council has a moral obligation to intervene and ensure the safety of workers and the broader community are not being put at risk.
“Workers don’t want to inconvenience the public, but they simply won’t stand by while their colleagues are being exposed to a likely carcinogen.”