A fair dinkum fair go?

A New Work Relations Architecture is a radical book for Australia. Radical because its authors are proposing industrial relations reform, and Australia has had very little of this since Prime Minister John Howard‘s attempt with Workchoices in 2005. Radical also because it has taken inspiration from the Robens approach to occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.

The new “architecture” (thankfully, the cliche of “ecosystem” was not used) is described as:

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The bubble has burst. Bring on the next one.

The legal action by Self-Employed Australia’s Ken Phillips to hold the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, ministers and senior bureaucrats accountable for COVID-19-related deaths stemming from the failure of the hotel quarantine program appears to have failed. At least it has in the courts, fringe community and political views still exist saying that Andrews should be pursued for murder or industrial manslaughter.

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Should a company that killed two workers receive a $2 million government contract?

In November last year, Pipecon was found guilty of breaching its occupational health and safety (OHS) duties concerning the deaths of two of the company’s workers in and from a trench collapse. An offence to which the company pleaded guilty. (Details of the incident and prosecution can be found HERE – search for Pipecon). The Ballarat Council has awarded the company a road construction project valued at over $2 million. Should the Council have done so? How does this decision affect the deterrence message that OHS prosecutions are supposed to generate? What does this say about the criteria used in procuring services?

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To achieve OHS progress, we need to understand Deterrence, and its failures

Deterrence has always been a major aim of enforcing occupational health and safety (OHS) laws and prosecuting wrongdoers. But the legal system and medical coverage have become so convoluted that the deterrent potential has declined.

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Improving the OHS state of knowledge

Earlier today, I wrote about the potential benefits of having an Australian Workplace Safety Bureau, an idea I first proposed in 2018. Others have similar thoughts.

On the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) website, Elizabeth Byrne has written about the decade-long effort of Kay Catanzariti to gain justice, and an apology, for the death of her son, Ben. Catanzariti has been a strong advocate for workplace health and safety for a long time. The ABC article quotes Catanzariti:

“Mrs Catanzariti says her experience shows that investigators need more expertise. “I want a federal investigation team for deaths on worksites,” she says.”

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Another attack and death of a remote area nurse

In 2008 a remote area nurse was raped and assaulted in her work-related residence in Mabuiag Island in the Torres Strait. More recently, South Australia had a similar incident – the rape and murder of nurse Gayle Woodford while working on-call alone. Both have resulted in inquiries by Coroners, Departments of Health and others, with similar outcomes, primarily that these incidents could have been prevented.

The recent outrage around Woodford’s death was that SafeWorkSA investigated and decided not to proceed with a prosecution of her employer Nganampa Health Council (NHC). The Coroner had already investigated Woodford’s death and found significant deficiencies in the NHC’s management systems and practices. Understandably questions have been asked in the South Australian Parliament, questions that raise important occupational health and safety (OHS) issues.

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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”
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