Business jumps the gun on OHS, unions hope for the best

As the Australian State of New South Wales approaches its March 2011 election day, the lobbying is becoming more fierce.  In fact,  conservation opposition leader, Barry O’Farrell will need to rein in some of his business colleagues if the lobbying becomes too fierce.

It is widely tipped that O’Farrell will win the election and people are already planning for his ascension.  If the business pressure becomes too overt, it may reduce the size of the landslide win that is being predicted.

For example, prior to the Council of Australian Governments meeting organised by the federal (Labor) government, the New South Wales Minerals Council provides an example of the issue they will be running on through to the election.  CEO Dr Nikki Williams has said in a media release this afternoon:

“…I note and welcome comments by both the Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Treasurer that OHS reform represents a ‘watershed’ issue and the NSW Coalition’s commitment to national OHS harmonisation.

“The Australian minerals industry has the best mining safety record in the world. We are committed to the health and safety of our workforce and we are continually striving to reach our target of zero injuries. It is simply our number one priority and the new Model Act will help towards the industry’s goal.

“A national OHS framework is crucial to improving safety in workplaces across the country. It will eliminate the tangled web of red tape across State borders, particularly for people working in companies which operate in a number of jurisdictions. The new Model Act will finally allow us to focus solely on safety and health, rather than wrestling with eight different compliance regimes.”

Dr Williams uses the jargon of corporate OHS concepts that often are impractical and poorly substantiated but the message is clear, she expects O’Farrell to support the national harmonisation process which, in New South Wales, means taking on the trade union movement.

Williams will not be the only industry representative waving a copy of a signed national agreement on economic cooperation at O’Farrell.

It should be noted that the current New South Wales Premier, Kristina Keneally has attended at least one annual dinner of the NSW Minerals Council, click HERE for details.

Unions NSW is in the lobbying ring as well for this political and ideological OHS fight. In a media statement on 9 February 2011 (not yet available online), in response to O’Farrell‘s policy statement and his appearance at the National Press Club:

“Three million working people in New South Wales will be left worse off when it comes to workplace safety after today’s announcement by Barry O’Farrell at the National Press Club that he would, if elected, adopt the nationally harmonised OHS laws for NSW.

New South Wales currently has some of the strongest workplace safety laws in the country. Under New South Wales law working people enjoy important protections that would be lost under Barry O’Farrell’s commitment to adopt nationally harmonised OHS laws if elected.

“Today’s announcement is a major setback for the safety of working people in New South Wales” said Mark Lennon, Unions NSW Secretary.

“By entirely adopting the national harmonised OHS model New South Wales working people will lose key safety provisions, ones that they have enjoyed for years.” said Mr Lennon.”

The difference of this ideological stance to that quoted from the NSW Minerals Council above is obvious.

Harmonisation is intended to reduce administrative costs of companies operating across different jurisdictions.  Advocates, like Williams, juxtapose harmonisation with safety management:

“A national OHS framework is crucial to improving safety in workplaces across the country. It will eliminate the tangled web of red tape across State borders…….”

A reduction of red tape does not necessarily equate to improved safety. Increased enforcement, assessment and supervision can, and does,  and that is why the harmonisation process needs to be considered as separate from safety management.  Harmonisation is a legal (and political) strategy that changes the rules for safety management but does not manage safety, in itself.  Safety management will be affected much more by enforcement policies at the State level and so it is the regulators’ policies and actions that one must be monitored closely.

Kevin Jones

Categories business, campaign, government, Keneally, law, O'Farrell, OHS, politics, safety, UncategorizedTags , , , , ,

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