In cases of wage theft, who investigates the OHS issues?

In August 2017, the ABC Four Corners program reported on the dysfunctional glass recycling industry. Following this various media looked at the issue and in September of that year, one recycler, Polytrade, allowed some media into their worksite. The focus was on the “recycling crisis” and occupational health and safety (OHS) did not get a look in but two years on and OHS is now mentioned, but perhaps not as prominently as it could be.

On October 5 2019, The Age newspaper reported on accusations by the Australian Workers Union that workers at Polytrade were underpaid around $40,000 each year. There are many elements to this story such as migrant workers, “wage theft”, which have tapped into topical issues of several years, but the health and safety of the workers has received much less attention.

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Better jobs should also be safer jobs

The impending election in Australia has started to generate various position statements and discussion papers from various lobbyists. The Australian Industry Group (AiGroup) and the Business Council of Australia (BCA) are the latest of these.

The AiGroup released its Productive and Fair Workplace Relations statement in late March 2019. Surprisingly there is no mention of occupational health and safety (OHS) even though its contribution to a productive workforce is well established. Its omission is doubly surprising given the political stink in some States about the introduction of Industrial Manslaughter laws.

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Labour Hire licencing scheme to be rolled out in Victoria

Labour Hire Authority Commissioner, Steve Dargavel,

Labour Hire is almost always seen in purely commercial terms of salaries, business costs, production rates, labour availability, migrant workers, and more. Occupational health and safety (OHS) is often seen as an add-on, a term that is included in a media story because it should be, not because the author has really thought about it or sees OHS as legitimate.

Australian States are beginning to introduce certification/regulations schemes for the Labour Hire industry as a result of the exposure of workplace abuses in this labour supply process. Not all States though. Queensland has one that has been running a year or so, Victoria’s is open for registration applications at the end of April 2019 and full operation before the end of 2019; South Australia began its system, but an election changed the political priorities and that scheme is in limbo. The other States are unclear on their preferences, but it is clear that there will be no national labour hire scheme.

Victoria’s Labour Hire Authority (LHA) Commissioner, Steve Dargavel, has just started his roadshow for explaining what the regulations are all about, how to apply, what it will mean and what it will cost. Importantly OHS and workers’ compensation are integral parts of the scheme and therefore part of what the LHA Inspectors will be looking at and enforcing.

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Queensland enforces its labour hire laws while Victoria is still working theirs out

Sunset over Lockyer Valley, in South East Queensland, Australia.

The Queensland government was the first Australian State to introduce a licencing scheme for the providers of contract workers and temporary labour.  As a result, enforcement activity by the regulator there will likely set the scene for similar actions in other States particularly as Victoria has opened it public consultation on its labour hire regulations. Sadly workplace health and safety seems to have been overlooked in Victoria’s draft labour hire regulations and current consultation process.

Last week the Queensland Government

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The future of OHS under the Australian Labor Party

At Australia’s National Press Club on October 18 2017, the Australian Labor Party’s Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Brendan O’Connor spoke, ostensibly on industrial relations but occupational health and safety (OHS) was mentioned.  O’Connor provided several examples of worker exploitation and casual work and then stated

“There is something really wrong when those big, household-name companies apparently feel absolutely no responsibility, or consider themselves immune from reputational risk, for exploitation of the workers on whose labour they make a vast profit. This is why at the last election, Labor promised a National Labour Hire licencing scheme. We said we would issue a licence to only those who have a clean record of complying with employment, tax and OH&S laws, and that licences would be revoked for serious misconduct.”

In the discussions about the regulation of the labour hire industry OHS has been given, comparatively, little attention so it is useful to note even the small amount of prominence granted it by O’Connor.

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People Centred Prevention should not be a new concept

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.

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