Possible Treasury and Industrial Relations white papers before the Job Summit and October Budget

So what level and type of well-being budget did Dr Jim Chalmers commit his government to? A lot less than we anticipated last week. Dr Chalmers gave a nod to the work of his New Zealand counterpart but seems to be waiting for further discussion in the “jobs summit” in September 2022.

Michelle Grattan has written that:

“A coming test for consensus will be the September jobs summit. This will be an ideas-gathering exercise, but the government will also want to shape it as a prelude to the October budget, and that will require some common messages.”

Regardless of Dr Chalmers’ intention to develop a well-being budget, the jobs summit will have the same tripartite of industrial relations and occupational health and safety (OHS) invitees. Unless Dr Chalmers and Treasury offer up something fresh, like an OHS perspective on the prevention of mental health, innovation is unlikely. Little more than “in-principle” agreements should be anticipated.

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Good framework but insufficient analysis

Occupational health and safety (OHS) is rarely analysed as a stand-alone business element. As such opportunities are missed to clarify one’s understanding of work health and safety and companies’ experience of it beyond “commitments” and workers’ compensation costs.

There is great potential for change in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially Goal number 8. Sadly, even here “Decent Work” which includes the safety and health of workers (8.8) is shared with “Economic Growth”. As a result, it is often difficult to isolate the OHS components. A recent analysis of Australia’s ASX200 companies illustrates the problem.

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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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Jessie Singer and the “social autopsy”

I am halfway through an extraordinary book called “There Are No Accidents –
The Deadly Rise of Injury and Disaster—Who Profits and Who Pays the Price
” by Jessie Singer. It is extraordinary in many ways, but the most significant is that Singer chose to write a book for the general reader about how people are hurt at work, home and when driving and how describing these as “accidents” deflects responsibility, as if there was nothing that could be done to prevent them. This is of huge significance to the advocates of work health and safety, and the book’s release should spark interviews with Singer and book reviews which could lead to a broader social discussion of safety.

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Australia needs its own Dirty Work

Eyal Press recently published “Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America.” One of Press’s contentions is that coronavirus has brought the invisible workers who do our dirty jobs into view. These are now considered “essential workers” but are still subjected to the inequality and poor working conditions that rendered them invisible to the rest of society, to those who benefit from the services and products of the invisible dirty workers.

Although this blog’s theme is occupational health and safety (OHS), Press’ description of “dirty work” is an important perspective on work generally:

“The familiar, colloquial meaning of “dirty work” is a thankless or unpleasant task. In this book, the term refers to something different and more specific.
First, it is work that causes substantial harm either to other people or to nonhuman animals and the environment, often through the infliction of violence.
Second, it entails doing something that “good people” – the respectable members of society – see as dirty and morally compromised.
Third, it is work that is injurious to the people who do it, leading them either to feel devalued and stigmatized by others or to feel that they have betrayed their own core values and beliefs.
Last and most important, it is contingent on a tacit mandate from the “good people,” who see this work as a necessary part of the social order but don’t explicitly assent to it and can, if need be, disavow responsibility for it. For this to be possible, the work must be delegated to other people, which is why the mandate rests on an understanding that someone else will handle the day-to-day drudgery.”

pages 11-12, reformatted to emphasis the definition elements
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Repeat OHS offender but you wouldn’t know it

Recently WorkSafe Victoria successfully prosecuted Midfield Meats International over an occupational health and safety (OHS) breach described as:

“a labour hire worker was hit by a reversing forklift as he was stacking cardboard sheets against a wall. The worker’s legs were crushed between the forklift and a steel barrier. He was taken to hospital and suffered nerve damage to his lower legs.”

The company pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay costs of $2000. In a media release, WorkSafe’s Executive Director of Health and Safety, Julie Nielsen, said

“This incident should serve as a wake-up call to this company and to others that it is simply unacceptable for pedestrians and mobile plant to mix…..”

But as OHSintros noted on a Facebook post about the prosecution, the Midfield Group is well known to WorkSafe, with OHS prosecutions going back to at least 2004 which attracted around $280,000 in fines, the largest penalty $95,000 in 2019. So it is worth a brief look at the OHS profile of the Midfield Group.

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“safety theft” in the gig economy

An opinion piece by Dr Elliot Fishman, of the Institute for Sensible Transport published in the HeraldSun newspaper on January 3, 2021 mentions Industrial Manslaughter in relation to food delivery drivers. (The article appears to be unavailable online) The link is tenuous and seems outside of Dr Fishman’s main area of expertise, but that seems to be the nature of Industrial Manslaughter penalties, they pop up in all sorts of discussions, many unrelated to the point being made.

The point Dr Fishman seems to be making is that the delivery of food on two-wheeled vehicles is dangerous, as shown by recent deaths of several riders in Victoria and New South Wales, and he poses several questions and suggestions to improve the situation:

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