The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has named Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker as its first industrial magistrate. The establishment of an industrial court in the ACT stems from the government accepting the recommendations of the Getting Home Safely report which in turn was a response to a spike in workplace fatalities in 2012.
Walker is unknown outside of the ACT but the best introduction to her is probably through a long interview she gave in February 2012 to ABC radio in Canberra. Occupational health and safety specifically was not on Walker’s radar at the time of the interview but it may be useful to note her comments on sentencing and how this should reflect, or consider, community expectations. Walker also discusses the importance of the preventive and educative role that penalties can have. How this perspective applies under the recent Work Health and Safety laws will be worth watching.
Recently Queensland’s Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie has been asserting that a review of union right-of-entry provisions is needed because unions have been using occupational health and safety (OHS) issues as an excuse for industrial relations (IR) action. Such assertions have been made for decades in Australia to the extent they have become fact. Below is an article looking at one of the sources of the Attorney-General’s assertions.
In a media statement dated 5 October 2013, Bleijie stated:
“For too long, we have seen construction unions using safety as an industrial weapon in this State… Quite frankly, their abuses of the current right of entry provisions are designed to bully contractors until they get their way. Sites are being hijacked and workers held to ransom.
“I have personally heard of stories from hard working Queenslanders who have been locked out of their workplace because of militant union activity.
“Earlier this year, a major contractor lost 42 days of work due to illegal strike activity in the first year of their enterprise agreement. This practice will end.”
Some of this statement was quoted in a Sunday Mail article on 6 October 2013 following the minister’s speech at an awards ceremony with the Master Builders. Like most political media statements there is a large amount of hyperbole but this article’s focus will be on the OHS elements of the statement. More…
This weekend the Australian people voted for the conservative Liberal Party to be the next Federal government. Workplace safety has been largely absent from the pre-election campaign but when it has been mentioned it has almost always been couched in terms of productivity. In the next few years, workplace safety issues must be couched in terms of productivity to have any hope of gaining the ear of the new government and, particularly, the ear of Senator Eric Abetz, the most likely candidate for the ministry of workplace relations.
Recent changes to workplace bullying laws which provide a prominent role of the Fair Work Commission are unlikely to be rolled back but Abetz has promised More…
Recently WorkSafeWA released its annual workplace safety performance data. One of the most dramatic findings of the report was that
“Work fatalities average one death every 21 days…”
UnionsWA has used this finding to criticise the West Australian government for not signing up to the model Work Health and Safety laws. There is a logic jump that needs serious questioning.
Mental health, happiness, well being, safety, red tape …. each of these have been linked to productivity recently in Australian discourses but, as has been mentioned previously, productivity has a flexible definition depending on one’s politics and political agenda. There is multi-factor productivity and labour productivity. Each measure provides different results. So where does OHS sit?
An article in The Weekend Australian on 27 July 2013 illustrates the flexible definitions and includes a rare acknowledgement on labour productivity.
“On the measure of labour productivity, which captures the output of each worker, productivity growth is in fact soaring, hitting 3.4 per cent in 2011-12. [emphasis added]
But on the broader measure, which includes the use business makes of capital equipment, growth is still a negligible 0.1 per cent and has declined on average 0.7 per cent a year ever since Labor was elected.”
The labour productivity figure is important to remember when one hears about excessive workloads, excessive hours of work and other potential causes for psychosocial hazards. More…
Every so often, legal seminars on industrial relations and occupational health and safety identify possible solutions instead of spruiking a lawyer’s latest publication or showing off legal expertise and OHS ignorance. In a lunchtime seminar in July 2013, Melbourne law firm Maddocks provided 30 minutes of clarity on flexible working arrangements and another 30 on workplace bullying providing a useful and refreshing bridge between human resources, industrial relations and OHS.
Flexible Work Arrangements
The Fair Work Act seems to be constantly changing and one of the most recent changes is a revision of flexible working arrangements. These arrangements have always been on the fringe of OHS but integral to HR where returning to work from extended leave needs phasing in, or where one’s familial situation has changed so that 9 to 5 is no longer manageable. OHS is not overt in these negotiations More…
The lower house (thanks, Rex) of the Australian Parliament has passed amendments to its industrial relations laws, the Fair Work Act, to allow for matters concerning workplace bullying to be heard in its Commission, once the laws pass the Senate.. But recent media and parliamentary discussion on this action seems to forgotten the welfare of the bullied workers.
Professor Andrew Stewart of the University of Adelaide is reported to have said that there is a risk that the Fair Work Commission will be “swamped” with bullying complaints and that a system of filtering should be applied. Such a mechanism is supported by Professor Ron McCallum who said in The Australian on 14 June 2013:
“I would agree with the Coalition that there should be some filtering mechanism because we don’t know how many complaints there are going to be,” he said. “There’s been wildly varying suggestions.
Today Australia hosts a No2Bullying conference. It is a timely conference as the debate on Australia’s changes to the Fair Work Act in relation to workplace bullying heats up.
Lawyer Josh Bornstein is particularly critical of the politicisation of the amendments and believes this increases the instability or remedies available to victims of workplace bullying by increasing pressure on under-resourced OHS regulators.
The amendments are unlikely to reduce the incidence of workplace bullying in Australia as they address post-incident circumstances.
As the new legislation is being passed through Parliament, the industrial relations, political and legal context will dominate the media, More…
On 28 April 2013, New Zealand lawyer, Hazel Armstrong, published a 48-page book on how workplace fatalities and the management of the NZ rail industry has been related to politics and economics.
This is an ideological position more than anything else and the evidence is thin in much of this short book but there is considerable power in the description of the manipulation of occupational health and safety regulations and oversight during the political privatisation of the NZ rail sector. Many countries have privatised previously nationalised, or government-owned, enterprises usually on the argument of productivity and efficiency increases. Armstrong argues that these arguments were used to justify breaking the trade union dominance of the rail industry. More…
This week in Australia the conservative Liberal Party released its much-anticipated industrial relations policy. Most commentary is that the policy is thin but in terms of occupational health and safety, the Liberal Party is supportive of the changes made concerning workplace bullying. Sadly, the commentary is often lazy.
One example of a careless headline is in the Herald Sun newspaper for 11 May 2013, “$20 million Budget boost to stop workplace bullying“. The Australian Government’s changes to the Fair Work Act do not prevent bullying, it only provides further options for remedy. OHS is principally about preventing harm and the Fair Work Act changes do not help in this aim. More…