The future of OHS under the Australian Labor Party

At Australia’s National Press Club on October 18 207, 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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Selective duty of care being applied by the Australian Government

Australia’s work health and safety (WHS) laws confirmed the modern approach to workplace safety legislation and compliance where workers and businesses are responsible for their own safety and the safety of others who may be affected by the work.  The obligations to others existed before the latest WHS law reforms but it was not widely enforced.  The

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Proposed drug testing – a political tool

On 6 February 2014 the Victorian Premier. Denis Napthine, announced the intention to

“…require construction companies to implement comprehensive drug and alcohol screening measures to ensure the safety of workers to be eligible to tender for Victorian Government construction contracts.”

This is to be part of the occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations of companies under the Implementation Guidelines to the Victorian Code of Practice for the Building and Construction Industry.  Understandably the construction union, particularly, is angry and feels as if it is being singled out.  Both organisations have chosen their words very carefully. Premier Napthine is quoted as saying:

“Reports of illicit drug use and distribution on Victorian construction sites are widespread.”

The CFMEU‘s Victorian Secretary John Setka has stated that

“There is no epidemic of drug taking on construction sites…. Our Health and Safety representatives who look out for workers’ health and safety are not reporting a problem.”

It is unlikely there is an epidemic of drug use but the Premier is talking of drugs AND alcohol.  

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MP wants to close a dodgy loophole but vision is what’s needed

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One of the most discussed posts on this blog concerned an insurance company that paid the fines awarded against a company director. The company director had been found guilty of OHS breaches that led to the death of a worker. Yesterday, South Australia’s Deputy Premier and Minister for Industrial Relations. John Rau, said that he will be taking action to close the loophole that allows for this situation. But this is unlikely to succeed and may be a distraction from the more significant issue of new penalties for deterrence.

In a media release, not yet available online, Rau states that

“Insurance should not be the preference over safe equipment and safe workplace standards….

Whilst most employers do the right thing, this dodge effectively means that the incentive for a company to provide a safe environment for its workers is diminished or eliminated.”

Rau’s current strategy for closing this loophole, which is not really a legal loophole at all, is weak. Rau, a Labor Party politician, says that he will bring the matter to the attention of the Federal Minister for Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten. However, Australia is ten days away from an election that the current (Labor) government is tipped to lose.

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