The father of Josh Park-Fing, the teenager who died on a Work for the Dole site, says text messages exchanged with his son hours before Park-Fing’s death show the young man was injured, yet made to continue working in the program.
18-year-old Park-Fing died from head injuries sustained when he fell from a flatbed trailer being towed by a tractor in April 2016. It’s suspected the tractor slipped a gear and jolted, causing the teen to fall.
At the time he was completing a Work for the Dole program at the Toowoomba Showgrounds arranged by employment contractor NEATO. He was earning $218.75 per week.
In a text message sent on the morning of the day he died, and seen by BuzzFeed News, Josh told his father, Ian Park, that: “Working for the dole is shot because they over work u n if your hurt your back they say there not filling out any paper work”.
Park claims his son was not allowed to fill out injury paperwork, or take a day off sick.
Park told BuzzFeed News he received a first message from his son at 7:15am on April 19, 2016, and then a final message at 8:26am, four hours before Park-Fing died.
Josh’s mum Jenny said he had asked her if he could “chuck a sickie”, but that he had ended up going to work. She says he was expecting to be sent home because he had hurt his back.
Forensic teams from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigated the incident but have yet to complete their final report. The Department of Employment provided an internal report to employment minister Michaelia Cash in September last year, which she has refused to release.
Cash told Senate Estimates her interim report has been given to NEATO, and that workplace safety practices had been updated to ensure the protection of young people taking part in the program.
But 610 days after the tragedy, the minister is still refusing to release those measures publicly.
In November, the Queensland Office of Industrial Relations (OIR) charged the Royal Agricultural Society of Queensland (RASQ), NEATO Employment Services, and Work For The Dole project coordinator Adrian Strachan, for alleged breaches of the Work Health Safety Act over Josh’s death.
It’s alleged the RASQ failed to implement adequate systems to prevent workers riding on the trailer, including ensuring workers were adequately supervised; and that the RASQ could have better maintained the tractor. If guilty, it faces a maximum fine of $1.5m for each charge.
NEATO Employment Services allegedly failed to comply with its primary duty of care and if found guilty faces a maximum fine of $500,000.
Strachan has been charged with failing to comply with his duty as a worker. If the allegation is proven he faces a maximum fine of $50,000.
The matter will be addressed in the Toowoomba Magistrates Court on Friday, December 22.
Josh’s distraught family wants others, including employment minister Michaelia Cash, also charged with breaching the Act in relation to their son’s death.
“It’s a little bit disgusting that not enough people are being charged for this, like Centrelink [staff] and the employment minister Cash,” Park told BuzzFeed News.
“At the end of the day it’s a chain of responsibility, that goes from the Work for the Dole supervisor all the way to Centrelink and minister Cash.”
Park says the Work for the Dole program needs to be reformed.
“My main concern is someone else’s family is going to through what mine has — Josh’s death is not going to be a one-off.
“We know now that heaps of injuries happen on unregulated Work for the Dole sites. So let’s stop it so no-one else has to go through a tragedy like this.”
Earlier this year, the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union (AUWU) was denied Freedom of Information (FOI) access to a copy of the Work for the Dole risk assessment for the site where Park-Fing died, or any information about what led to the teenager’s death.
The Department of Employment said it denied the FOI request because the report contained information that could “harm” NEATO.
“It’s disgraceful that Josh’s family have been waiting so long to find out what really happened to him on that site and why,” AUWU vice-president Ewen Kloas said.
The AUWU says Work for the Dole injuries have increased fivefold under the Coalition’s “jobactive” system.
In 2015-2016 there were 500 injuries sustained, out of 106,000 participants in the Work for the Dole programs, including the death of Park-Fing.
Of all complaints made to the AUWU national safety hotline, 30% were to report safety issues on Work for the Dole sites.
One person who worked at the site where Park-Fing died told the AUWU that when he expressed concern about driving a tractor, he was told by his supervisor that he would face a penalty if he did not do the work.
According to a government-commissioned report by Ernst and Young, last year 64% of Work for the Dole risk assessments failed to fully comply with standard workplace health and safety procedures.
“We hope these new legal developments in the Park-Fing case are a wake up call for minister Cash,” Kloas said.
“There needs to be a thorough investigation into a for-profit job service industry that clearly doesn’t prioritise job seeker safety.”
A Department of Employment spokesperson told BuzzFeed News in a statement: “The death of Mr Joshua Park-Fing was a tragic event … Work, health and safety is a priority for the Work for the Dole program.
“jobactive providers and Work for the Dole Coordinators must undertake risk assessments each Work for the Dole activity. These risk assessments must be reviewed, monitored and updated as appropriate. This assessment includes determining the suitability of the activity for the participant.”