Just over six months ago the (conservative) Victorian Government announced that it was dropping the WorkSafe brand (pictured right). This made little sense at the time as the WorkSafe brand was so established that it became accepted shorthand for the OHS inspectorate. On 23 January 2015, less than two months after the election of a new (Labor) Victorian Government, the brand has been resurrected. It seems that this indicates an ideological change.
The benefits of dropping the brand were stated on the Victorian Workcover Authority’s (VWA) website (pictured above) as better reflecting all areas of the VWA’s business but the decision was widely interpreted as a diminution of attention to harm and injury prevention. Such a strategic shift echoed the increased perception of organisational heartlessness by some community sectors. More…
Whether one believes that the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption is a political witch-hunt or a genuine attempt to clean up a corrupt industry sector, the Royal Commission seems to have revealed an abuse and exploitation of occupational health and safety (OHS) – an exploitation that has received next to no attention. The release of the Commission’s interim report allows for a quick analysis of this situation.
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was a particular target of the Commission in relation to a “slush fund” established by her then-boyfriend, Bruce Wilson, commonly referred to as the “AWU affair“. The “slush fund”, known as the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association, was developed, according to Gillard
“… to support the re-election of union officials who would campaign for workplace reforms including better occupational health and safety.” (Interim Report, Vol 1, page 99)
The Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, called a “snap” election for the end of January 2015. On 11 January 2015, Newman tweeted:
“Queenslanders injured at work are covered by Australia’s strongest workers’ compensation scheme.”
This is a further example of political newspeak as what does a “strong” workers’ compensation scheme look like? Newman’s tweet included an image that provides some clarity to his claim.
Last year SafetyAtWorkBlog reported its failure at gaining the release of the Victorian Government’s full cost analysis of the introduction of the national Work Health and Safety laws. In November 2014 the Victorian Government changed from conservative Liberal to traditionally more worker-friendly Labor Party. So I submitted another request, with the same result, the report was
“…prepared for the purpose of submission for consideration by Cabinet in 2012…”
It seems we will have to wait another 28 years, apparently, to see the full estimated costs of Victoria introducing occupational health and safety laws that most other States have already introduced. It is worth remembering that one State, South Australia, provided dramatically different cost estimates and the Productivity Commission estimated cost savings for some companies:
“…multi-state businesses are likely to see compliance costs fall and safety outcomes improve, generating total possible net cost savings of $480 million per year [under the new Work Health and Safety laws]” (Chapter 8, page 153)
The previous Liberal Government pledged never to introduce the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws. The new Labor Government failed to mention these laws in its 2014 election/policy platform so their intentions on WHS laws are unclear. However, it is widely believed that Victoria has lost its claim to be at the leading edge of OHS/WHS legislation in this country. If such status is important to the Labour Government, as it has been to the Australian Labor Party in the past, it is hard not to see it harmonising its OHS laws to those of the other States even if through quiet diplomacy rather than a noisy legislative change.
Today Australia’s Employment Minister, Senator Eric Abetz, released a statement concerning a change to the renewal of Comcare licences in the spirit of reducing business red tape but there are two mentions of workplace safety that are curious.
In the statement entitled “Comcare self-insurance licence change“, Senator Abetz has welcomed:
“…a reform that will see businesses save more than $1 million a year which can be reinvested in Work Health and Safety and jobs.”
“This reform will reduce the regulatory burden, remove the cost of licence extensions in years two and four, and push back the costs of audit until year eight as well as ensure safer workplaces.”
The argument on reducing OHS red tape is that the cost savings can be reinvested into occupational health and safety measures but there seems to be no independent evidence to support this belief. More…
At a remembrance service in December 2014, the founder and outgoing deputy director of the Creative Ministries Network (CMN), John Bottomley, explained his refusal of funding from the Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA) for CMN’s work-related grief support services (now called GriefWork). VWA has a different take on his comments.
In discussing the relevance of the Book of Isaiah to the motivations of the CMN to help people, Bottomley said that
“… it is God’s response to injustice and suffering that has planted this same spirit at the heart of our endeavours to transform work-related harm.
So CMN rejected VWA’s contract in April this year, after WorkSafe had funded our agency for over ten years to provide grief support services. My reason for rejecting the new contract was that VWA wanted to hide bereaved families grief from the public domain of injustice at work. The contract brief treated grief as an individual psychological problem to be addressed behind the closed doors of a clinic shut off from the rest of society. The contract wanted to treat work-related grief like an illness, and treat grieving families as sick and lacking the ability to ‘cope’. This heaps injustice upon injustice.”
On 25 November 2014 the Federal Minister for Employment, Eric Abetz, attacked the Victorian Labor Party over its pledge to revoke the Construction Compliance Code which, primarily, deals with industrial relations but also has some occupational health and safety (OHS) requirements.
Abetz states that
“the Victorian Shadow Industrial Relations Minister [Natalie Hutchins] falsely claimed that the Code would not improve workplace safety, despite the numerous improved safety standards that it contains.”
The claim, apparently in the Herald-Sun newspaper, cannot be verified except through a reference in a news.com.au article. The original quote seems unavailable.
It is curious that this OHS criticism has come from a Federal Parliamentarian instead of from Victoria’s own Industrial Relations Minister and Attorney-General, Robert Clark. Clark echoed Abetz’s statement yesterday but where Senator Abetz mentions the possible OHS ramifications of the Opposition’s Leader Daniel Andrews’ tearing up (page 16 of the ALP 2014 Platform) of the Construction Compliance Code, Robert Clark hardly mentions the workplace safety context. More…
Later this month, Victoria is conducting its regular State election. Workplace safety has not been mentioned by any of the candidates but at least one industry association has mentioned occupational health and safety in its pre-election statement. The Australian Industry Group (AiGroup) has recommended
“The next Victorian Government should immediately commit to the harmonised OHS laws as the state remains the only jurisdiction not to do so.” (page 5)
The AiGroup does not expand on the reasons for this recommendation other than seeing OHS has part of its general call for harmonisation and that it is part of “reducing costs of doing business”. SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to fill in some of the AiGroup’s reasoning by talking, exclusively, with Mark Goodsell, in the unavailability of the author of the pre-election statement, Tim Piper. More…
On 27 October 2014 the Safety Institute of Australia, with the support of RMIT University conducted a seminar on safety in the construction industry. As with the event last year the issue of Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) dominated the conversation. The same frustrations were expressed as last year – SWMS are too big and complex, they are demanded for tasks they are not legislatively required for, they are rarely read, they are rarely reviewed and they are written only in English. What was missing was an indication of who is (over)demanding SWMS and why.
The seminar contained one client representative experienced in major construction projects who said that he was not directly involved with SWMS as the contract demands only that work is undertaken safely with predetermined levels of risk and reward. That level of safety may or may not involve the use of SWMS – SWMS were not prescribed.
He did not review SWMS unless there was a specific reason and most of the time there was not. It could be argued that too much involvement by the client in how the project is to be completed implies a shared OHS responsibility with the client, changing the client/contractor relationship.
One construction industry representative said that they have been able to reduce the number of SWMS to around twenty types for each of the active construction projects. This has been achieved by limiting the SWMS to the 19 high risk tasks identified in safety legislation. It was significant that this perspective came from the top-level of construction companies, the Tier Ones. More…
In October 2014, one of Australia’s Prime Ministers, Gough Whitlam, died at the age of 98. Whitlam introduced major social reforms, many which still exist today (just). One reform he valued but was not able to achieve was a national accident compensation scheme. It is worth noting when reading of the current economic and moral arguments over workplace responsibility and over-regulation that Whitlam’s national accident compensation scheme included workers compensation.
In 1974, during Whitlam’s time as the Prime Minister of Australia, the New Zealand government established a no-fault accident compensation scheme following the 1967 Royal Commission of Inquiry into Compensation for Personal Injury in New Zealand chaired by Owen Woodhouse. Woodhouse was invited to assess the likelihood of a similar scheme being introduced in Australia. He completed his inquiry (not available online) for such a scheme and legislation was drafted. The bill was in the Australian Parliament when the Whitlam government was dismissed by Governor-General John Kerr. As a result of the political machinations of the Liberal Party of Australia, Australia missed the opportunity to have a national accident compensation scheme. More…