Political disregard for OHS…. again

In 2014 during an election campaign (now Premier of Victoria) Daniel Andrews stated:

“Labor will introduce random breath testing for all Members of Parliament during sitting weeks” and

“Labor will also legislate to give the Chief Justice, the Chief Judge and the Chief Magistrate the power to require these random tests of the judiciary.”

At the time potential drug and alcohol testing on Victorian construction sites was topical.

This week the first pledge was dropped and the second was obfuscated.  Where was the safety justification for this pledge in the first place? What was Andrews thinking?

It could be claimed that Daniel Andrews was showing leadership by pledging that politicians and judges will be subjected to the same workplace safety processes as construction workers.  One can see this (social equality) logic.  But what does is say now that the pledge has been dropped.  What is the antonym of leadership? Impotence? Powerlessness? Weakness?

Of course, Andrews was not showing leadership at all in the original statement.  He made a political pledge in the context of contesting the Victorian State election.  It was a stunt and was seen as such at the time.

The pledge was never going to be honoured, especially when the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union reversed its long-held opposition to drug and alcohol tests.  The sector that Andrews was, perhaps, trying to impress, left him hanging.

In a fractious and waffling interview on Melbourne radio, Victoria’s Attorney-General Martin Pakula never mentioned occupational health and safety (OHS) and yet OHS is usually the justification for random drug and alcohol testing.  Pakula argues that additional legislation or power is required to introduce drug and alcohol testing for the judiciary but OHS laws already provide the authority to introduce this supposedly risk control measure.  However it is likely that one would need to justify the introduction of this measure by proving the existence of the hazard. Andrews could not do this and without evidence the pledge was a nonsense and clearly a political campaign stunt.

(Pakula admitted at the time that excessive drinking of alcohol at Parliament was “not a widespread problem, it’s not a common problem…” He also admitted that “there was no particular evidence of alcohol misuse in the judiciary.”)

This is a further example of policy makers being prepared to discredit the good aims and intentions of workplace safety laws for a clear short term political purpose.

The article and radio interview indicates that the pledge was made without consultation with the parties most affected by the introduction of drug and alcohol testing.  Such a move would never be an accepted practice under OHS law.  WorkSafe Victoria advises that

“Consultation needs to be planned…”

Consultation is about:

  • “sharing information about health and safety
  • giving employees a reasonable opportunity to express their views, and
  • taking those views into account.”

One cannot take views into account after a decision is made.

In the political scheme, the broken pledge is a minor irritation but, without overstating its importance, Daniel Andrews showed an anti-leadership on an OHS control option that has been highly contentious for decades.  His pledge sent the wrong message on workplace safety at the time and this week’s back-down sends the wrong message again.  Each time OHS was exploited for political purposes.

Kevin Jones

Categories Andrews, construction, consultation, drug testing, evidence, government, guidance, lawyers, OHS, politics, risk, safety

3 thoughts on “Political disregard for OHS…. again”

  1. Good comments above, in the past over this side of the continent, we have had numerous politicians being caught for drunk driving as wellas being totally under the weather at functions all around the state. I think one would only have to do a search of the last few years of media to justify enough evidence to support random testing for politicians. If a leader fell asleep in any other job trhey would not last long. Enough is enough. Time for a strong message to be sent and please dont buy the line that is part of teh job or a perk of the job. Thier job is to represent and to lead the states in good government and pull us back into the black.

  2. Dear Reader, thanks for the links. They provide a context to the apparent lack of evidence of alcohol and drug misuse in the Victorian Parliament.

    On the points raised in your last paragraph, I have also seen this reticence from the executive. It is hard to justify as they will be mostly in low risk work activities so the risk of drug or alcohol-related injuries is low. However the risk of impaired decision making may be high in some situations. If this is the case, the testing should not be the issue, but perhaps their work performance, fitness to work and long-term health issues are the OHS issues that need addressing.

    Whatever the circumstances, in the OHS context, it is easier to justify an alcohol- and drug-free work environment than trying to find exceptions, loopholes and “special considerations”.

  3. A reader has sent this comment by email:

    We have a Parliamentary cellar (might have just shut down), our own NSW Parliament wine label and bar in NSW Parliament. We have two function centres also. The wine industry would go to ruin if they banned drinking!

    We have had Parliamentarians fall asleep (including a former safety minister), harass other staff and parliamentarians, including one former MP that tried to fondle another in parliament during sitting time. We had one MP who went to gaol who got kids stoned in his parliamentary office and then sexually assault them.

    It is interesting that when negotiating AOD policies with employers they often break down when we suggest that the board, and executives must be included and that the randomness includes drawing out of a hat tickets of every employee rather than randomly target people or groups of people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *