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San Francisco-Based Bechtel Group in Hot Water over Asbestos Issue in Australia

engineerSan Francisco, California-based Bechtel Group, the largest construction and engineering company in the U.S., has run into trouble related to asbestos in the Australian state of Queensland.

According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) says it could take Bechtel to federal court over a wage dispute in which some workers refused to complete a project until asbestos testing was completed.

The dispute, which is taking place on Queensland’s Curtis Island near Gladstone, stems from pre-built electrical switch rooms that were imported by Bechtel from Indonesia. Testing has indicated that the rooms contain white asbestos, which is a banned import in Australia, according to the news source.

Peter Ong, an official with the ETU, told the media outlet that after a Fair Work Australia hearing did not resolve the issue, the union is considering taking the matter to federal court.

“The current agreement that covers the projects being built at Curtis Island is a WorkChoices agreement, so it was made in 2009,” Ong explained. “That agreement doesn’t allow for arbitration, so it doesn’t allow for the commissioners to actually make a call or make a judgment on it unless both parties agree to arbitration.”

Bechtel’s asbestos issues continue

Bechtel, which was founded in 1898, has a long history with asbestos, particularly during World War II during work on shipyards. The company has also been the subject of asbestos lawsuits from individuals who were exposed on the job, making it all the more troubling that the carcinogenic substance has become an issue for Bechtel once again.

The issue is particularly disconcerting considering the well-documented risks of asbestos exposure. According to World Health Organization estimates, asbestos-related illnesses such as lung cancer, asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma are responsible for the deaths of approximately 107,000 individuals around the world each year.

Ong, the union official helping to lead the charge in the Bechtel case, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the fact that the industrial giant has not admitted to poorly handling the situation and not properly compensated workers is more than troubling.

“Now that’s not happening all, that’s left up to our side of things … to take it to the Federal Court,” Ong explained.

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