On 9 September 2011 The Australian newspaper reported that the executive director of the Independent Contractors of Australia, Ken Phillips, had serious concerns over the new Work Heath and Safety laws to be introduced in Australia in 2012.
Phillips has received legal advice that identifies serious shortcomings in the new laws compared to the existing Victorian OHS laws. These include eliminating the right to silence and protection against self-incrimination during incident investigations by OHS regulators. The article says that the ICA’s analysis
“…shows that the new system would also empower workplace inspectors to seize entire businesses without the oversight of a court, something that is currently not permitted in Victoria.”
It also reports that Phillips fears
“…the scheme would lead to a recurrence of what happened under the former workplace safety system in NSW where “ordinary people were prosecuted even if they had no control over the business”.
The overall significance of the article is that Ken Phillips and the ICA are principally concerned about post-incident ramifications. There is nothing in the article about the elements of the new laws that encourage or require positive actions on injury prevention.
Some may find the ICA’s 2008 submission on the national OHS law review of interest. Others may like to read Phillips’ book, Independence and the Death of Employment. On online review included the following significant quote from Ken Phillips’ book:
“If, as individuals, businesses and societies we are to move forward, we must recognize the nature of the employment contract. Where we reject employment, we find new liberty, strength, equality and self-worth. Societies function better without employment. Businesses are more successful without employment. Individuals are happier without employment. Yet working without being employed is not easy. In fact, non-employment goes against the natural grain of some powerful human instincts. But the revolt against employment, against concentrated power, is a sign that we are becoming more civilized.“
“…replacing employment relationships with commercial contracts would mean that “all power rests with the corporation basically, which is what it’s all about. Can you imagine a part-time waitress in a restaurant being an independent contractor, paying for her own workers’ compensation? It’s a joke to think that it would be in the interests of so many employees. And in reality for many employers it would be a nightmare – it’s actually economically efficient to have employment relationships. The bid to force everybody to become an individual contractor is really driven by ideology rather than efficiency.”
The employment relationship is an important workplace consideration (perhaps the most important) but OHS laws do not focus responsibility on the individual but on the system of work. The logical extension of some of Phillip’s points is that if the employment relationship has been replaced by individual contracts then each individual is also responsible for their own safety. (The issue of individual accountability for workplace safety will be discussed in an upcoming blog article by Col Finnie)
The Australian article, on 9 September, like many others, reports on people who are looking at the wrong end of the OHS laws. They are concerned over punishment and not prevention, risks and not opportunities.