Pressure on local government over procurement and OHS

On a chilly night in Ballarat, over a hundred people gathered outside the Town Hall, within which the City Council was meeting, to let the Council know that the awarding of millions of dollars of ratepayers’ money to a local company that admitted to breaching occupational health and safety (OHS) laws and that led to the deaths of two local workers was not acceptable.

The event seem coordinated by the local Trades Hall Council, for the usual inflatable rat and fat cat were next to the ute, which was blasting out protest songs. Almost all the speakers were trade unionists, although one was Andy Meddick from the Animal Justice Party. The protest may not have achieved the changes that many speakers called for, but as is the case with these types of events, Council has given some ground with a likely review of the OHS procurement criteria.

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Australia’s mining sector can avoid becoming the next institutional pariah

Around a decade ago, parts of the Australian rail construction industry introduced the Pegasus Card. The intent was to have a single portal through which a worker’s competencies and eligibility to work could be verified. It evolved into the Rail Industry Worker Card in existence today. Pegasus remains in parts of the mining sector.

I was reminded of the Pegasus Card when I read the recent West Australian report into sexual harassment in the mining sector, Enough is Enough. One of its recommendations, Number 3, was that:

“The industry must explore ways to prevent perpetrators of serious sexual harassment simply finding reemployment on other sites and in other companies. This should involve:
– thorough exploration of an industry-wide workers’ register or other mechanism such as industry-wide accreditation, taking into account natural justice considerations and perhaps modelled on the Working With Children Card;…..

“industry-wide workers’ register”? Isn’t that what the Pegasus card helps to manage?

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Ballarat Council responds

Ballarat City Council has provided a short statement in response to the nine questions put to it about the awarding of a $2 million construction contract to Pipecon, a company that was recently convicted and penalised over the deaths of two of its workers as mentioned in a blog article earlier this week.

A spokesperson for the council wrote:

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Lymph v Blood – OHS at the Jobs & Skills Summit

If Industrial Relations is the lifeblood of the economy and the nation, then Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) is the lymphatic system, a less well-known supplementary system without which blood circulation fails and the body stops working.

Australia’s Job and Skills Summit that has just concluded focused on the blood. Media analysis offered mixed interpretations. The event was politically stage-managed with many agenda items pre-prepared for the Summit to confirm, but it was not a worthless gabfest, as some (who chose not to attend) have asserted. On the matter of occupational health and safety, there was one new initiative but most of the OHS change, if any, is now more likely to come through the (wellbeing) budget in October.

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Expand “Safety Differently” to “Work Differently”

Occupational health and safety is as much at risk of hypocrisy as any other business element. Perhaps moreso as it is full of trite cliches. Many people find it easier to identify hypocrisy when it is shown by others and Australian media company SBS provided an example recently.

According to an article in The Age newspaper on June 26, 2002 (not yet available online, image below), SBS had commissioned an independent production company, Fell Swoop Pictures, to produce a series about the exploitation of food delivery gig workers. This is a legitimate topic for depiction, especially after five food delivery workers were killed in Australia recently over a short period of time. The income levels of this type of worker have been a feature of many of the concerns raised by trade unions and others, and that has been highlighted in several formal inquiries into the industry sector.

Sadly Fell Swoop Pictures promoted the opportunity to be an Extra in a series about exploitation without the Extras being paid!!

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Federal Safety Commission embraces mental health

The Office of the Federal Safety Commission is a weird beast.  It originated from Royal Commission in the Building and Construction Industry which many at the time and since saw as a politically motivated exercise.  But whereas the Australian Building and Construction Commission which also originated in the Royal Commission, is mired in political and media back and forth, the OFSC has remained relatively clean.  This may illustrate the difficulty of arguing against workplace health and safety even when the Commission has a fair bit of safety clutter.

Recently the OFSC joined the workplace mental health movement, a legitimate occupational health and safety element.  It will offer little that is new, but the results of its November 2021 member survey do provide a useful insight into the major construction projects and contractors.

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Insecure work is not going away, but it should

Insecure work creates stress for workers and their families yet companies continue to choose insecure work contracts for this type of work. They must take some responsibility for the physical and mental health consequences.

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Insecure work creates stress for workers and their families yet companies continue to choose insecure work contracts for this type of work. They must take some responsibility for the physical and mental health consequences.

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