Within the last week, Victoria’s State Premier, John Brumby, lost an election allowing the conservative parties in the Australian State to gain power, narrowly, after over a decade in isolation. Election pledges are now only of historic interest but let’s look at a couple.
The crime of workplace bullying
According to the Australian Financial Review on 2 November 2010 (not available without subscription), John Brumby pledged to have a legal review into the “creation of the offence of bullying under the Crimes Act”. The Victorian Chamber of Commerce & Industry‘s (VECCI) Steven Wojtkiw opposed the pledge because existing OHS laws were sufficient. Taking the election context away for a moment indicates a challenge for those anti-bullying advocates. Wojtkiw is quoted as saying
“To introduce a greater level of legislative prescription in the area may only add to the increasing complexities already being confronted by employers in managing a modern workplace.”
It could be argued that if industry had already introduced an appropriate approach to reducing the likelihood of bullying in the workplace John Brumby would never have felt the need to make such a pledge. In many cases, anti-regulation laissez-faire business lobbyists could reduce the “insidious elements of the nanny state” by doing right by their workforce in the first place.
Bullying and harmonisation
Michael Tooma of Norton Rose is quoted in the same article but Tooma uses Brumby’s pledge as an example of another but different nail in the coffin of Federal OHS reform. Just as the State of New South Wales has indicated it will be seeking variations to the OHS harmonisation process, virtually rendering the process inoperable, Tooma argues that Brumby’s actions are similarly damaging. Tooma says:
“The Victorian government’s proposal is yet another example of the unravelling of the programme of harmonisation of work health and safety laws…. The continuing stream of deviations from the model work safety laws makes a mockery of the process.”
Brumby’s pledge evaporated with his loss but it showed that even States that have a lot to gain from the OHS harmonisation process are not averse to tweaking their commitment.
Until this week, Gordon Rich-Phillips was the shadow minister for Workcover. A list of new ministers and portfolios under the new Baillieu government issued on 2 December 2010 made no mention of the Workcover portfolio. The Liberal Party headquarters informed SafetyAtWorkBlog, after some time, that it was likely that the Workcover portfolio would be part of Employment and Industrial Relations (a logical fit) allocated to Richard Dalla-Riva. The electoral offices of both new Ministers were unclear about the areas of responsibility. Later in the afternoon, a phone call was received from one of the Ministerial advisers that Workcover does go to Rich-Phillips.
Significantly, Rich-Phillips’ website on 4 December 2010 still fails to list Workcover as one of his portfolios.
This matter could be considered to be the petty whingeing of a safety professional but the confusion on the portfolio and the omission of Workcover on the new Minister’s website indicates that less attention is being provided to this portfolio, a portfolio that, according to the latest 2010 WorkSafe Annual Report, received $A654 million from its insurance operations and achieved a net result of $A176 million.
Other than the financial elements of the portfolio Rich-Phillips will be sharing the national limelight with other State ministers through the sharp end of the national OHS harmonisation processes.
Politics and Industrial Manslaughter
Industrial Manslaughter is dead in Australia, as an OHS issue but it seems not as a political issue. VECCI stirred the anti-Greens pot on the matter during the Victorian election campaign. Quoted in The Australian newspaper on 26 November 2010 and writing in the VECCI blog, the workplace relations spokesperson, Alexandra Marriott, said
“Under the Greens industrial relations policies, we will go back to the bad old days of the 1970s, and the workplace will be like a scene from I’m All Right Jack*….,
“By introducing an industrial manslaughter offence on top of these laws, the co-operation element will go and it will be all about blaming the boss for everything.” [link added]
And why wouldn’t they defend the policy which they have held for many years.
As seen above there is plenty of conflict with national harmonisation from both sides of the political agenda but the writing of the blog article was an unnecessary intrusion. The policy on Industrial Manslaughter was established some time ago. The newspaper article and issue gained no media attention and the issue did not feature in the campaign.
Such comments say much about the attitudes and conduct of the speakers, sometimes, much more than the issue under discussion.
Anyway, the Greens did not establish anywhere near the level of political influence in the recent election that they expected so the industrial manslaughter policy will again gather dust on the shelves of the Australian Greens. What Marriott’s words showed was a glimpse into the political strategies of VECCI on workplace safety matters which should be closely watched in the future now that a government that is far more sympathetic to business sector lobbying is in power in Victoria, the State whose OHS laws were used as the model for the new national laws.
* SafetyAtWorkBlog only recently purchased a copy of this movie, a 1956 black-and-white starring Peter Sellers. It is very funny but has a confusing ideology on capitalism, OHS and industrial relations. Sadly it ends with a Benny-Hill-ish chase of naked women through a paddock. Very odd.