“Union safety”?

Reading an article about CFMEU organiser, Joe McDonald, today illustrates an important differentiation to be kept in mind.  A unionist’s benchmark for safety compliance may differ from that of the employer, regardless of the fact that the employer has the major legislative obligation to establish a “safe and healthy work environment”.

Joe McDonald pledges to keep his members safe.  A spokesperson for the construction company said

“…there were some safety issues at the site but said they were being addressed when the union walked out.”

How does walking away from OHS consultation improve safety?

The cause of the confusion on “safety” comes from the weakening of prescriptive legislation and codes to accommodate operating costs, and in the increase of the  “reasonably practicable”  test.

The union movement in New South Wales had the most extreme level of OHS regulation in Australia.  It was hated by the business sector and has been weakened by the government as a result of federal pressures and aims but, the fact that New South Wales has achieved a 2% reduction in the injury incident rate, may add weight to the unions’ desire to retain the legislation.

There is a fundamental dichotomy of regulatory and operational approaches in OHS management in Australia currently that the harmonised OHS system may only exacerbate.  It is now up to the Safe Work Australia boffins to keep an open mind in harmonisation negotiations but to also remained focused on the aim of any OHS legislation which is to keep people safe.

Kevin Jones

2 thoughts on ““Union safety”?”

  1. Joe McDonald has become the poster boy that the right wing politicians and media commentators love to hate. There is no doubt that he passionately wants to keep people alive and unharmed.

    Giving attention to Joe and how the media report him provides useful clues to OHS regulators and professionals on some of the OHS challenges they face on some Australian worksites.

    If I had a choice of working a union or non-union worksite, I would choose union because I would have more confidence in the safety of that workplace. But even better safety can be achieved by honest and cooperative consultation.

  2. One can\’t help but get the feeling with some of the construction unions that safety is sometimes seen as more of a political tool, to be bought out when the union wants to throw its weight around, rather than purely arising from concern over the workers.

    I suspect the CFMEU is genuine in its desire to see improved safety on site, but doesn\’t understand its role in doing something about it, nor particularly understands the responsibility of its members (i.e. the workers on site) in contributing to a safe worksite.

    Best practice in the construction industry presently involves carefully building a safety culture on site (naturally, on top of compliance with legislation), and to do this requires participation from everyone from the project manager to the TA, and requires them to work together for safety. Joe McDonald\’s comments seem to pit workers against the \”construction company\”, and further imply that it is solely the construction company\’s role to police safety on site.

    Nothing could be further from the truth, but where improving safety requires breaking down the old class barriers, it might just be a step too far for some.

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