On July 1, 2020, Victoria receives the Workplace Manslaughter laws that it missed out on by a bee’s whatsit in 2002. Premier Daniel Andrews will complete another election pledge and will be seen as a champion for Victoria’s workers. The Workplace Manslaughter laws will provide some bereaved relatives with comfort and a belief that bad employers will be punished for neglecting their occupational health and safety (OHS) duties to provide safe and healthy work environments. Punishment is possible, but unlikely.
The first thing that Victorians need to understand is that Workplace Manslaughter laws are not about OHS, they are about politics. It is no coincidence that both Queensland and Victoria’s Workplace Manslaughter laws emerged during election campaigns. Both branches of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) needed to say something about workplace relations that did not involve the hotbed of industrial relations, especially when so much IR change would bring in National politics.
OHS allows people to talk about IR without the trade union politics. OHS is not about money, it is about quality of life and who, in politics or elsewhere, will say that deaths at work are an acceptable consequence? The ALP leaders were on a winner and were able to take some moral high ground and criticise business groups on an issue against which business leaders could not argue.
Continue reading “Victoria’s Workplace Manslaughter laws are a misdirection”
On May 20, 2020 Industrial Manslaughter became an offence applicable to Queensland’s mining and resources sector, sometime after the offence was applied to all other Queensland businesses. Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws have always been as much about politics as they are about penalties, deterrence and occupational health and safety (OHS).
Some of the politics is shown by the responses from Queensland business groups (sounding like spoken through gritted teeth) but to really understand these laws, it is worth looking at the Second Reading of the omnibus Bill that included the IM amendments as politicians in several other Australian jurisdictions will face the same issues. It is also useful for OHS people to understand the political and legislative context of the penalties their employers may face.
Also, in the last week of May 2020, the first company to be successfully prosecuted under the IM laws will be sentenced, Brisbane Auto Recycling. The company’s two directors have pleaded guilty to reckless conduct and will also be sentenced.
Occupational health and safety (OHS) is integral to how work and job should be designed in the post-COVID19 world, but you wouldn’t know it from the current discussions in the media. On May 13, 2020, the day after a major economic statement from Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, Jennifer Westacott, Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia, told ABC Radio that:
“…. there’s some pretty sobering numbers that the Treasurer gave yesterday and fundamentally I think we’ve all got to come back to basics here. This is about people’s lives and so what we have to do, as the kind of leadership dynamic, is to focus on getting people back to work and getting them into secure and meaningful work.emphasis added
It is not unreasonable to add safety to that “secure and meaningful work”.
OHS fits into this phrase in many ways, but one of particular note is job security and its links to mental health, especially as mental health has been a policy priority repeatedly identified by Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and others.
On May 11 2020, the Australian Financial Review’s back page ran an article (paywalled)about how “corporates” are becoming aware of mental health risks due to the COVID19 disruption. It is a good article but also one that reveals the dominant misunderstanding about mental health at work and how to prevent it.
[Guest Post] By Simon Longstaff (reproduced with permission from Crikey)
Each week, The Ethics Centre’s executive director Dr Simon Longstaff will be answering your ethics questions [in Crikey]. This week:
“ My employer sent me a questionnaire designed to test if my home working environment meets basic standards. If I’d answered truthfully I would have ‘failed’ the test. But what’s the point in telling the truth when I have to work at home in any case? Was it wrong to lie on the form?”
Although this ethical issue seems to fall on you — as the person receiving the survey — it actually starts with your employer’s decision to request this information in the first place.