Robbing Peter to pay Paul – the “WorkSafe Tax” is challenged

More details of the “WorkSafe Tax” and WorkSafe Victoria’s new infringement notices and specialist construction inspectors emerged with the appearance of the Minister for Workplace Safety, Jill Hennessy, at the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearing on June 14 2019.

Liberal Member of Parliament, Richard Riordan went to town on the Minister. He opened with this question:

“….I refer to budget paper 5, page 23, which shows you are ripping $700 million out of the WorkCover Authority over the forward estimates. How does taking such a massive dividend tax to the government help workplace safety?”

page 5, Verified Transcript

But this issue has been bubbling along since at least 2011 when the now Premier, Daniel Andrews, vehemently opposed it.

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Dust clouds on kitchen benchtops

The Victorian Premier, the Minister for Workplace Safety, Dr Ryan Hoy and others at the silicosis announcement

The Victorian Government has announced that various safety initiatives are being taken on the silicosis risks associated with products described as synthetic stone. This initiative is an important first step in reducing the exposure of workers to silicosis but there are some curiosities in the announcement and WorkSafe Victoria’s accompanying Information Sheet.

The core elements of the government’s action are:

  • “A state-wide ban on uncontrolled dry cutting of materials that contain crystalline silica dust
  • Free health screening for Victoria’s 1400 stonemasons
  • A tough new compliance code for businesses working with silica
  • An awareness campaign to highlight the risks of working with engineered stone”.
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OHS is largely overlooked even on its special day

The mainstream media did cover the Australian Labor Party’s statement about workplace safety and industrial manslaughter laws. These issues also featured, unsurprisingly, in some of the commemorations on International Workers Memorial Day. But the issue was largely left floating, irretrievable in the political swimming pool.

David Martin-Guzman, writing for the Australian Financial Review (AFR), painted the ALP announcement as advocating on behalf Australia’s most militant trade union, the Construction Forestry Mining Maritime and Energy Union (CFMEU). This approach sadly places any OHS activity purely in the context of industrial relations. That is likely placing OHS as only part of Human Resources. OHS is its own profession, has its own principles and is supported by its own legislation and government regulator.

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What is the “All Victorians Infrastructure Fund”?

ON 22 November 2018, two days before the State Election, the Secretary of the Department of Treasury and Finance released a document called the “Release of costing of election commitment“.  Most of the media attention was on the removal of a self-imposed “debt cap” by Treasurer, Tim Pallas, but there is an interesting footnote that seems to involve using some of WorkSafe Victoria’s premium income as a dividend to fund infrastructure.

Attachment A – “Summary of Labor’s 2018 Election Commitments” – lists the following table (figures are in millions):

Footnote 3 says:

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What will the ALP do for Victoria on OHS?

archive photo of Premier Daniel Andrews

The Victorian Branch of the Australian Labor Party has had its 2018 policy platform available online for sometime.  Given that the State election  is on November 24, 2018 it is timely to look at the ALP’s new, or restated, commitments.

In its section on Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) the ALP claims that its support of WorkSafe Victoria’s

“…behavioural change campaigns has seen a reduction over time in workplace injury and death, however there remain some businesses which continue to show little regard for the safety of their workforce.” (page 17)

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