Victoria’s analysis of OHS law costs is unhelpful politics

The Victorian Government has released the PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) assessment of the potential economic impacts of the introduction of the national Work Health and safety laws.

The government media statement accompanying the report states that

“The proposed laws do not deliver on the intent of the COAG reform agreed to in 2008 which aimed to reduce the cost of regulation and enhance productivity and workforce mobility,” Mr Baillieu said.

“Victoria already has the safest system, the most effective system, the lowest rate of workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths of all states, and the lowest workers’ compensation premiums in the country.  It is estimated that it will cost Victoria $812 million to transition to the new model and $587 million a year in the first five years in ongoing costs to businesses.  Most of those costs will be borne by small enterprises which make up 90 per cent of Victorian businesses…,”

This media statement needs to be seen as, largely, political posturing. PwC has produced a report that confirms many of the suspicions that the conservative politicians in Victoria have held for some time. Continue reading “Victoria’s analysis of OHS law costs is unhelpful politics”

Union protest is a dry run for Workcover Review and Workers’ Memorial Day

The next stage of a union campaign over the management of workers’ compensation premiums in Victoria occurred in late March 2012.  Trade unions are angry that the Liberal Government of Premier Ted Baillieu has chosen to remove almost $A500 million from the Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA) fund to be allocated to general revenue.  On the steps of Parliament several hundred union members and interested parties were told to “keep their hands off workers’ money”.  Some of this hyperbole needs a little analysis.

Several unionists stated that the workers’ compensation fund is “workers’ money”.  Yes and no.  Yes in that almost revenue created by business comes from labour but when workers’ compensation is required, by law, to be paid to the Workcover Authority by employers, the ownership is a couple of steps away from workers.  Also Workcover takes the premiums as an economic base to invest in the hope of increasing the total fund through dividends and other returns.  The total fund includes premiums and returns on investment, over which workers have no influence. Continue reading “Union protest is a dry run for Workcover Review and Workers’ Memorial Day”

Safety profession needs to counter the influence of the red tape ideologues

Australia’s safety profession has a considerable challenge over the next few years, one for which it seems to be poorly prepared.  The challenge comes not from new occupational health and safety (OHS) laws or new hazards but from entrenched ideologies.  As the country moves to an increasing political conservatism, safety needs to prove it is as important as other issues, such as productivity and job creation,  by vying for political and corporate attention.

The challenge  is that the Australian conservative political parties are ideologically opposed to almost ANY laws that could possibly impede economic growth and they believe that occupational health and safety laws impede growth by disrupting work and adding unnecessary operational costs.  This is not the reality but the ideology is so ingrained into conservative politics that the safety profession will gain very little traction in the next few years without a strategy to contest this ideological fantasy.

The conservative Liberal Government in Victoria forestalled introduction of the model Work Health and Safety laws to undertake an assessment of the economic impacts of the laws on the State’s businesses, despite an assessment having already occurred through the regulatory impact process.  The review had a tenuous justification but served the political purpose of distancing the conservative politicians in Victoria from the Labor Party that is in power federally.  The review also plays to its traditional business sector supporters indicating that the Liberal Party takes potential regulatory impositions seriously.  It is believed the report of the review undertaken by PriceWaterhouseCoopers is now with the Victorian Government for its consideration.
Continue reading “Safety profession needs to counter the influence of the red tape ideologues”

Lawyer says OHS harmonisation has become a shambles

The 28 December 2011 edition of the Australian Financial Review (AFR) (not available online) quotes Australian labour lawyer, Michael Tooma, talking about the harmonisation of workplace safety laws:

“It’s descended into a farce, a shambles – only four jurisdictions are ready for the laws.”

This seems supported by the words of the recently-appointed Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, who says that the new Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) laws will cover 58% of the workforce. This also equates to 42% NOT being covered – hardly a success for harmony.

Victoria’s WorkCover Minister, Gordon Rich-Phillips, continues to miss the point of national harmonisation by continuing to argue against harmonisation with parochialism. He says that the new laws are very likely to increase the regulatory and cost burden without acknowledging that Victoria has many prominent businesses who operate nationally and will incur increased compliance costs due to his delay in the implementation of the harmonised laws.

The AFR article implies that a major reason for objection is that senior executives, the ridiculously named “C-suite”, will face increased accountability for decisions that affect worker safety. Perhaps, but this increase has been coming for some time and should have been anticipated by the C-suite.

The article also implies that hesitation over these laws comes from the increased accountability of senior public servants and departmental heads. Tooma acknowledges this change:

“To date, heads of departments in the public service have never been able to be held criminally liable under federal laws.”

The public service is going to be a fierce battleground considering that psychosocial issues are so prevalent in this sector. It will be fascinating (and sad) to watch senior executives in government departments being prosecuted under OHS laws for workplace bullying, excessive workloads and the generation of stress. (The size of the challenge may be seen by recent bullying issues in the Australian emergency services, WorkSafe Victoria and WorkCover NSW)

The AFR has been one of the very few newspapers reporting on OHS harmonisation but, not surprising given its specialized readership, it has focused on the business costs of implementation. Rarely has it discussed the positive benefits to safety management or the potential increase in worker safety. Perhaps there are none.

There is little safety innovation in the new laws. If OHS is about preventing harm, these laws are no improvement on the previous.

But then safety has rarely come from laws but from how people react to, or apply, the laws. The debate on harmonisation has been missing the voice of the safety profession in Australia but perhaps that’s because there is nothing new to say. Perhaps the management of safety will not have any fundamental change. It may be that the only change is that the CEOs begin to listen to their OHS advisers. Let’s hope that is enough.

Kevin Jones

Labor lawyer raises strong concerns over new Work Health and Safety laws

Yesterday morning, Mike Hammond of the Australian law firm, Norton Rose, conducted a seminar on the harmonisation of Australia’s work health and safety laws.  This was the last in the current series of seminars on this topic but Hammond’s seminar differed considerably from previous sessions.  Hammond is clearly less than enamoured with the model Work Safety and Health Act, describing parts of the legislation as “bad law” and asking whether the laws were examples of “social engineering”.

Understandably, these comments generated considerable discussion from the audience of around 50 people.

The crucial nub of Hammond’s concerns was the lack of essential definitions in the model law.  Continue reading “Labor lawyer raises strong concerns over new Work Health and Safety laws”

Australian politician jumps on possible OHS concession from Government

Politics has again entered the OHS harmonisation debate in Australia.  Federal Workplace Relations Minister, Chris Evans, issued a statement on 10 November 2011, part of which that has been pounced on by the Opposition and slightly twisted by the online media.

“Senator Evans also announced that transitional arrangements for the model OHS laws have been developed by Safe Work Australia to assist businesses to move to the new harmonised arrangements.

“The transitional arrangements will apply to the model OHS Regulations and provide delayed commencement of up to 12 months or more where the new laws result in a new or significantly different set of duties,” Senator Evans said.

“The developments of sensible transitional arrangements are part and parcel of any new laws.”

The Shadow Minister for Workplace Relations, Eric Abetz, quickly responded with a media release of his own.

“Minister Evans has today conceded that businesses will be able to delay implementing new national health and safety laws by up to 12 months if the regulations result in them having to undertake significant change.  Given that almost every business will have to make significant change, this is the Minister’s back door way of delaying the laws implementation.”

It is important to read the entirety of Senator Evans statement as it reiterates some of the points that SafetyAtWorkBlog reported on several weeks ago.   Continue reading “Australian politician jumps on possible OHS concession from Government”

Victoria risks $50 million over OHS reforms

A SafetyAtWorkBlog article from last week said that Victoria’s Work Safe Week started flat and that speakers at some events were unsure of the future of OHS laws due to Minister Gordon Rich-Phillips‘ unprecedented call to the Federal Government for a 12-month delay.

A spokesperson for the Federal Minister for Industrial Relations, Chris Evans, has told SafetyAtWorkBlog that Victoria is risking $A50 million of federal government funding if it does not implement OHS reforms:

“….the Victorian Government has already factored in around $50 million in reward payments for the 2011-12 budget forward estimates. These reward payments are dependent on Victoria implementing agreed reforms in accordance with key milestones. This includes OHS reform.”

This economic reality is perhaps behind Rich-Phillips’ continuing emphasis that the Victorian Government continues to support the “principle” of harmonisation.

At the 2011 Work Safe Awards on 19 October 2011, Minister  Rich-Phillips seemed to identify a strategy that is contrary to the application of that principle.   Continue reading “Victoria risks $50 million over OHS reforms”