Media reports on 11 May 2009 do not provide optimism for the introduction of harmonised OHS laws in Australia. The Australian reports that the ACTU is lobbying Federal ministers over the reports into the model OHS law that are scheduled to be discussed at the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council on 18 May.
The unions believe that following the recommendations of the review panel will provide workers with lesser standard of safety protection than they currently have.
The government has been slow is responding to the recommendations of the review panel, an odd action given the tight reform timeline they set. However, the government has shown that timelines are flexible even when the future of humanity is threatened by climate change.
The ACTU will be campaigning in the media this week against the weakening of OHS laws, particularly the extremist laws of New South Wales. Whether this is an ambit claim or not will be found out next week but whatever it is it shows regrettable shortsightedness on the part of the ACTU.
The Australian Financial Review (page 5, 11 May 2009, article not available online) seems to take some glee in the fact that the safety laws are “shaky”. The paper may be caught between watching the Government’s agenda failing again or advocating legislative change to reduce the operational costs of its readers. The AFR reports that three States are digging in against the possible OHS law reforms. New South Wales (largely seen as dominated by the trade unions), Queensland (new IR Minster Cameron Dick wants the State’s reverse onus of proof to be applied) and Western Australia have indicated a hesitance to accept.
The Federal Government needs a two-thirds majority for the national OHS legislation to occur and, with a week to go, SafetyAtWorkBlog expects the government to apply some horsetrading for the new laws to pass.
Having said that noone yet knows what the new laws are that will be proposed. The Government has received the review panel reports but has yet to respond to the recommendations.
Any law reform focused on national harmonisation is unlikely to succeed unless there is unanimous support for the reforms. The fear all along with the OHS laws is that agreement will be short-term until state governments decide that their industries or industrial relations situation have special needs and responds parochially and weakens the national strategy.
The challenge for the Federal Minister for Workplace Relations, Julia Gillard, is to achieve unanimity AND lock in State support for several years so that harmony and stability can be achieved. OHS law reform on this scale occurs rarely and all parties should be looking at the long term on this issue rather than their own state-based petty power struggles. We have to wait till early next week to see which States have the mature politicians.