Can you vote for OHS?

Australia is in the last few weeks of its federal election. Because it is a national election and occupational health and safety (OHS) is almost totally regulated at the State and Territory level, workplace health and safety is rarely if ever mentioned directly in campaign pledges. However, OHS does have a political campaign context if one accepts that some workplace hazards are caused or affected by social and government policies.

Australian Labor Party

The Australian Labor Party’s suite of campaign policies includes several items that could reduce the mental anguish in the community, thereby encouraging people to take jobs and making applicants more attractive to employers but there are no direct pledges on OHS. It states in its “Secure Australian Jobs” policy that:

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Two steps forward and one back

Employers are less criticised about their workplace health and safety performance than the government, even though it is employers who have the primary duty of care for their workers’ occupational health and safety (OHS). The Federal (conservative) government and Prime Minister remind us regularly that the responsibility for OHS sits in the State and Territory jurisdictions. No one seems to accept their own responsibilities for OHS, so it is little surprise that worker health and safety has no effective national coordination.

Recently the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) released an OHS report entitled “Morrison Missing in Action on Work Health and Safety“. It is also looking in the wrong direction. Of course, the Prime Minister is missing in action – employers have the primary duty of care, which local jurisdictions enforce.

Although this document has good OHS information, references and statistics, it is primarily part of the current federal election campaign, reporting information that the politicians mostly already know.

Continue reading “Two steps forward and one back”

“can’t afford” means “don’t want to”

Richard Denniss, an economist with The Australia Institute, discusses economics differently from other economists. He will seldom discuss occupational health and safety (OHS). He rarely talks about industrial relations. Instead, he talks about the big picture by drawing on many sources and disciplines, which is why he is so interesting to listen to.

This week he was on a national book tour for his latest publication on the role of the State in the modern economy and some of his opinions connected with the management of workplace health and safety.

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Confrontation with PM involves workers’ compensation

Last week Australian media covered a confrontation between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and a pensioner, Ray, in Newcastle. Most of the coverage focused on Ray’s criticism of the commitments of the Morrison Government to support and reward those citizens willing to “have go”. The full 5-minute video provides a much better context to the man’s complaints than do the short edits on most media bulletins. That context seems to include concerns about workers’ compensation and the processes of the Dust and Diseases Board.

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Should heartlessness be the status quo?

On April 7, 2022, prominent trade unionist Luke Hilakari had an opinion piece published in The Age newspaper titled “Paul was told he has arthritis. His workplace injury was far more serious”. Hilakari told a story, familiar to many, of one man’s journey from workplace injury to impecunious hardship.

The story is tough to read and full of injustices, but the political point of the article is lost. The Victorian Government has been provided with a report that could reduce the bureaucratic and surveillance challenges faced by Paul, but the system itself will not change.

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A mouse that is trying to roar

Robert Gottliebsen continues to support the campaign led by Self-Employed Australia’s Ken Phillips, to have senior members of the Victorian government prosecuted for breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act. However, his arguments are becoming weaker.

On February 13 2022, in his column in The Australian (paywalled), Gottliebsen made big claims for Phillips’ legal action, which is being crowdfunded and advised by anonymous (but “some of Australia’s top OHS”) lawyers. He concluded his latest article saying:

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Angry workers demanding access? OHS has got this – sort of

The reopening of workplaces in some Australian States is causing alarm over potential violence and abuse from those who do not meet or choose not to meet the new COVID-19 access requirements. This is perhaps most succinctly put in a recent article in The Guardian (paywalled) asking “… who will enforce rules for unvaccinated customers” – a question with which many employers are struggling.

The article discussed the expectations of employers about the rules or public health orders that they are expected to enforce but also about who can they call on if there is trouble, given there are mixed messages from the New South Wales government, in particular. (If “unprecedented” was the most used word in 2020, “mixed messages” may be the 2021 equivalent)

The enforcement question is being faced by all workplaces in all States that need to reopen under COVID-19 restrictions.

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