The trade union movement has often been instrumental in affecting and sometimes creating government policy on occupational health and safety (OHS). The latest generation of hazards – psychosocial – can be traced back to a survey late last century of workplace stress conducted by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). This week the ACTU released its survey into sexual harassment at work.
The current survey should not be seen as representative of any social group other than trade union members even though the survey was completed by 10,000 of them. Also, this survey is far less likely to be as newsworthy as last century’s surveys as the agenda on workplace sexual harassment has already been established by reports from groups like Universities Australia and, especially, the current work by the Sexual Discrimination Commissioner and the Australian Human Rights Commission. It is also likely to be covered, probably as a secondary issue, in the various mental health inquiries scheduled for 2019.
The ACTU survey provides additional information to our understanding of sexual harassment at work but certainly not the whole picture.
For those Australians who are watching the latest political push for Industrial Manslaughter laws, it is important to remember that the activity has a history that extends over a decade. Many of the current arguments for and against have been addressed previously. In August 2004, the earlier iteration of this blog, Safety At Work magazine, printed a special edition on “The Australian Industrial Manslaughter Debate”. Below is an edited version of my Editorial in that magazine. A longer article on the issues raised in that edition is available elsewhere in the SafetyAtWorkBlog.
Australia currently has a lot of official inquiries into workplace issues that affect the occupational health and safety (OHS) of workers. It is almost impossible to keep up with them and, as a result, some important voices are being missed, but even if they spoke, there is a strong chance they will not be listened to. The Victorian Government has released the final report of the Inquiry into Penalty Rates and Fair Pay. There are two overt mentions of OHS that don’t seem to go anywhere.
In a submission quoted by the Inquiry, the
The World Congress on Safety and Health is physically and mentally exhausting. Physically, simply because of its size. Mentally because there is so much information. Some that confirms your occupational health and safety (OHS) approach and others that conflict with what you know. Some information that seems incredibly dated and anachronistic but you look around and this seems new and wonderful to other delegates.
A major theme of the Congress was “People Centred Prevention” (PCP). This is one of the anachronisms. Wasn’t OHS always about keeping people safe? If this theme had originated in the United Kingdom, it could have been contextualised as redressing the red tape attack on OHS regulation by previous governments – bringing the humanity back to OHS – but it is being proposed in this Congress as a significant change of focus and perspective.
The Australian Human Rights Commission has released a report into the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault in Australia’s university campuses. It has revealed some shocking statistics and brings Australian universities into the global phenomenon of reassessing university obligations for the modern world.
Australia’s occupational health and safety laws and obligations could be used as a structure for preventing assaults and harassment if the government and universities would be brave enough to use them.