“Insecure work is absolutely toxic”

The Victorian Government is trialling the provision of five days of sick, and carers’ leave for casual workers.  This was announced jointly by the Premier Daniel Andrews and the Minister for Workplace Safety, Ingrid Stitt on the Labour Day public holiday, indicating that this is a big reform and one directly related to occupational health and safety (OHS).  But the OHS arguments are not at the fore, regardless of the quote from the Premier that is the headline above.

The OHS context of precarious work has been articulated clearly and over many years by many Australian researchers. The lack of serious action by employers to address the structural causes of physical and psychological risks related to precarity offers a good indication of the values and priorities of business owners and employers. 

Into this void, the Victorian Government has stepped.  Sadly, it is a mini-step that offers more political benefits than tangible change, especially in an election year.

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All quiet in SA, for now

South Australia (SA) goes to an election in March 2022, so it is a good time to examine any occupational health and safety (OHS) policies.

As per usual, the policies of the incumbent Liberal Party government are vague on broad themes like worker safety but can include specific pledges – new roads, better electricity system, for instance. These activities need workers, and Victoria’s infrastructure strategy, its “Big Build“, has performed politically well for Victoria’s Premier Dan Andrews.

The SA branch of the Australian Labor Party has a document of their current policies, and here are some of those related to workplace health and safety:

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Achievements and opportunities

In November 2022, Victoria has its State Election. The current Government of the Australian Labor Party has a solid parliamentary presence and is tipped to win another term of government. Although the 2022 Platform is yet to be released, it is worth looking at the 2018 policy document for what was promised and has been achieved in occupational health and safety (OHS) since then and speculating on what is left to do or announce in 2022.

The opposition Liberal Party of Victoria does not release policy documents but does include a list of its “beliefs”.

Below is a list of what Labor “will” do from the OHS chapter of its 2018 platform document:

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Increased OHS accountability sought

The political strategy of Ken Phillips of Self Employed Australia (formerly of the Independent Contractors of Australia) received a boost in The Age newspaper on December 12 2021, in an article headlined “Group to mount legal challenge to force prosecution of Premier over hotel quarantine disaster” online (paywalled) or “Business owners seek prosecution of Andrews over hotel quarantine” in the print version.

Phillips uses a section of Victoria’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act to make a political point about accountability. Previously, Phillips, his usual mainstream media contact Robert Gottliebsen, and others have called for Premier Daniel Andrews to be charged with Industrial Manslaughter (IM) over the deaths of over 800 people linked to a COVID-19 outbreak from the failure of Victoria’s hotel quarantine program. (The recent non-hotel outbreak is around 597 deaths)

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“as far as politically practicable”

Last week WorkSafe Victoria announced that it was prosecuting the Department of Health over breaches of its occupational health and safety (OHS) duties with the management of Victoria’s Hotel Quarantine program. There is very little information available beyond what is included in the WorkSafe media release until the filing hearing at the Magistrates’ Court on October 22 2021.

Most of the current commentary adds little and usually builds on the existing campaigns to charge (Labor) Premier Dan Andrews with Industrial Manslaughter. Still, it is worth looking at WorkSafe’s media release and the thoughts of some others.

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Political attack falls flat

There is an animosity between the Liberal Party in Victoria and some of its sympathetic media and WorkSafe Victoria, particularly aimed at the CEO, Colin Radford. Most of this has been played out in the mainstream media, but recently, in the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) of the Victorian Parliament, the Deputy Chair, Richard Riordan (Liberal), slagged off WorkSafe and Radford over Victoria’s Hotel Quarantine Program. His attack was ineffective and showed a lack of understanding of WorkSafe’s enforcement role and occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.

This performance overshadowed some of the points being made by the Minister for Workplace Safety, Ingrid Stitt (ALP), in the hearing. However, she omitted the upcoming imposition of on-the-spot fines.

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