Australian senator sees OHS consultation as “collusion”

In response to correspondence from an Australian safety professional, Senator Eric Abetz, Federal Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, has displayed his ignorance of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.  In the  email response, reproduced in full below and dated 26 April 2012, Senator Abetz, accuses “big Government” “big unions and big business” of colluding on the development of Codes of Practice.

Abetz shows his misunderstanding of the status of codes of practice in the regulation of OHS.  He also uses a DRAFT  code of practice to illustrate the absurdity of new OHS laws, a draft that is having a contentious route but is expected to be considerably changed in the final version.

The draft code he chooses is workplace bullying and the senator tries to illustrate how silly this code’s suggestions are by hypothesizing a small business.  He chooses a two person plumbing firm.  How different his perspective could have been should he have chosen a real small business workplace bullying case that resulted in a worker killing herself.  How convenient to avoid the Cafe Vamp example.

The Senator also gives the Independent Contractors Association more prominence than it perhaps deserves.  The nature of these comparatively small associations are that they seek to represent certain portions of society and should never be considered representative.

The email below, confirmed as genuine, illustrates how ill-informed the Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations is on workplace safety management and laws.  It also illustrates that at least one federal conservative politician believes that a Victoria-specific economic analysis of OHS business costs has relevance beyond that State’s economy, confirming the political importance of the PricewaterhouseCooper report.

“Thank you for your email of the 16th April, 2012 concerning harmonised occupation health and safety laws.

Might I suggest that you in fact acquaint yourself with the Price Waterhouse Coopers Report.

Further, many State Parliaments around Australia are balking at the legislation. Independent Contractors Association and other organisations have expressed very real concerns. The changing of the Victorian legislation and the basis of the Victorian legislation to which you refer should be a matter of concern to you. The removal of the control test and the protection against self incrimination are just two areas.

Further, the legislation is only ‘coat hanger’ legislation and its basic effect will be through the Codes of Practice which will underpin the legislation. So far some of these draft Codes of Practice highlight that they are being developed by big Government in collusion with big unions and big business without any thought for the impact on small business.

Just one example is the draft code on bullying. The suggestion is that each workplace have posters up in the staff common room, and a specific person be allocated as the ‘go to’ person to complain about bullying.

I asked how this might apply to the plumber that employs two people, and they meet on each job site on a daily basis without a common room. How would the posters be put up, where would they be put up and who would be the ‘go to’ person, given that the three of them work together all day, every day?

Be assured that the concerns are well thought out, and are indicative of the Liberal Party’s concern and support for the small business sector.

Yours sincerely

Eric Abetz

Leader of the Opposition in the Senate

Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations”

Kevin Jones

5 thoughts on “Australian senator sees OHS consultation as “collusion””

  1. I have to agree somewhat with Abetz, if not for example used, but for the intent. Excessive compliance requirements are a dead hand on business.

    I also have issues with the onerous, prescriptive nature of much OHSW law/regulation, as a means of the exclusion of disabled people from employment. It will not get better with the newer legislation, I fear.

    However I appreciate your blog very much, and many of the ideas raised herein. Thank you for such an informative, intelligent site.

  2. Kevin, as always thank you for your ongoing contributions.

    Andrea, you have not missed anything in your reading of the Act, nor have you confused the issue whatsoever.

    It would appear that there is a pandemic of foot in mouth disease currently infesting all levels of government. One of the most common side effects is vacuous dribble.

    Whilst there are known cures for such infestations, the cure often is more harsh than the infection.

  3. Oh I am sorry, I forgot to raise something that has been bothering me for a little while … well at least since embarking on my own law degree that is.

    Now unless I have this completely confused (and I do not think I have), the concerns surrounding the protection against self-incrimination has been very much misinterpreted. It is my understanding that while the right to silence has been removed, this ONLY has specific affect on an investigation’s ability to determine the cause of an incident. The motivation seems quite logical – find it how it happened so other workers in the area can be protected. It is also understood that the information gathered as a result of this line of questioning can NOT be used as evidence. Let me just repeat that … it CAN NOT be used as evidence in court.

    Please if I have this wrong, please feel free to correct my misunderstanding BUT if I am correct about this then …

    There can’t be a violation of someone’s legal protections or basic legal rights since the right to silence was issued as a legal right.

    What am I missing?

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