Australian Minister’s latest comments on OHS law reform

Last week the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, spoke at the ACTU Congress for 2009.  Industrial relations was clearly the principal agenda issue but Gillard did mention OHS.  The relevant OHS text of her speech is below.

For those wishing more information about her rowdy reception, coverage is available at several Australian news sites.

The OHS content got no mention in any of the mainstream press and some of the political websites also ignored it.  

Prior to the Deputy PM’s speech, the congress held a minute’s silence for all those who lost their lives through traumatic injuries at work.  The Deputy PM was presented with a petition (details to come). 

During the silence, two relatives of  young construction workers in Queensland who had died, were on stage.  On screen a role call of the dead scrolled slowly as a backdrop.  

Occupational Health and Safety

Friends, as representatives of working Australians you know that nothing is more important to them than safety at work.

Recently State Ministers for occupational health and safety and I reached a vital reform milestone: agreement for the creation of a uniform national occupational health and safety regime. 

This is a massive advance for workplace safety. As you will recall, the first, but ultimately unsuccessful steps towards a uniform occupational health and safety regime were taken by the Hawke Government in 1984.  25 years is too long to wait for better laws to cut preventable workplace deaths and accidents.  But we are now primed to achieve a great outcome for Australian workers and businesses alike. 

Under current occupational health and safety laws, only four jurisdictions allow workers to stop unsafe work – Western Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the ACT.  This represents approximately 14.5% of Australian workers. The new occupational health and safety laws will extend this right to all Australian workers.

For too long employers have thought that they could cut costs by cutting corners on health and safety.  Under these new laws every employer will understand that cutting corners comes at a huge price. 

The penalties under the new occupational health and safety laws will far exceed existing penalties in today’s legislation in Australia.  Currently, the highest maximum fine for a corporation is $1.65 million.  In some jurisdictions the maximum is significantly less.  Under the new laws, the maximum will be increased to $3 million, almost double the largest penalty in the country today. 

Through the tripartite body, Safe Work Australia, you will be partners in developing the model laws for this new national system. 

Kevin Jones

Categories death, Gillard, law, OHS, politics, safety, statistics, UncategorizedTags , , , , ,

3 thoughts on “Australian Minister’s latest comments on OHS law reform”

  1. Dear Ej

    Like you I have reservations about the application of new OHS laws in Australian workplaces. I think the \”reasonably practicable\” elements throughout the proposed legislation does not help people to manage safety or determine their own level of safety. It encourages the involvement of lawyers and, always, cost.

    I take your point about only four States allowing the refusal of work. Most of the post above is from the Deputy PM\’s speech and it is Julia Gillard who makes the point you disagree with. I encourage communication in all my business and recommend you contact the Minister\’s office for clarification, should you wish. Her comment didn\’t sound right to me either.

    The reforms are concerning Law and the recommendations need to be viewed in that context. Within the next two years, someone needs to look closely at the documentation, analysis and public statements on the new national laws and provide a book on \”How to manage safety under the new OHS regime\”.

    Most OHS professionals will agree that complying with OHS law is not the same as managing a safe workplace.

    Kevin

  2. It is absurd that you write only four jurisdictions give workers the right to refuse unsafe work. I am from Victoria and workers here have the right to refuse unsafe work and also the protection from employer discrimination when doing so by also having the ability to do this via their elected Health and safety Representative.

    As for your talk of greater fines for bad workplace safety performance have a good look at what happens here, there are very minimal prosecutions now with even less being fined anywhere near the maximum amount!

    This is clearly not due to most Victorian workplaces being safer than other jurisdictions as Victoria has one of if not the worst injury rates in the country, although we have a workers comp system that is designed to starve innocent workers out of compensation and onto the government sickness benefits scheme (Centerlink) or to the point of suicide, which happens.

    A true tripartite regulator needs to be in place to govern OHS regulations and assist with an increase in protection not continue down the path of a reduction in protection where we can get away with it.

    With regard to your thought that making the \”possible\” fines bigger will deter anyone, if the maximum is very rarely handed out as it is now then nothing will change.

    We need to be more like Canada and some European countries that aim to have the best laws and highest protection for our greatest workplace assets – workers – not like America and try and capitalise on the misery and injuries of our own and foreign workers while concurrently dismantling employees ability to be protected.

    This all happens while workers are earning less and less due to the increase of \”skilled foreign labour\” into industries where it is not required but used to reduce wage claims for workers and help push the lowest common denominator in safety laws through as the threat of deportation is greater to \”guest\” workers outweighs any safety concerns they have for the duration of their Temporary 457 Visa.

    \”Cutting red tape\” for a national OHS law does not mean cutting laws and protections for workers, it means increasing the laws in jurisdictions that require it to meet the the best laws across the country but having a streamlined Act and or Regulations for each state to pick up and adopt easliy.

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