Too big to be held accountable?

Paul Howes, national secretary of the Australian Workers union has issued a media statement in support of the International Day of Mourning in which he says the Government is scared of BHP Billiton.

“Politicians – of all political shades – are just too scared to stand up to BHP-Billiton and tell them that in a safe work place people should come before profits”

The statement goes on to itemise the benefits of a unionised workplace and many of the comments will be familiar to readers and OHS professionals but what Howes statement implies is that not only is profitability given a higher priority than safety by the company but that the Australian Government is putting economic growth before corporate accountability for safety.

This focuses attention again on the big picture, political attitude to workplace safety in Australia.  It also illustrates the political acumen of the Deputy Prime Minister and Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard.  Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has mistepped in  his apology over the deaths of four insulation installers.  Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, has been stripped of authority.  The Minister whose portfolio links all these OHS issues, Julia Gillard, has managed to avoid the controversies.

This “dream run” on OHS laws should not be allowed to distract us from analysing the real-world impact of the Government’s OHS law agenda.  We need to look through the political veneer to the substance.

Paul Howes comments are couched in union-political rhetoric but the perspective is important if not as widely-held as ion the 1970s and 1980s.  Perhaps more analysis and facts emerge through many of the public speeches in support of today’s International Day of Mourning.

Kevin Jones

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