Australia has yet to offer a good reason for hazardous engineered stone products not being banned from import and use. On November 23 2022, Australia’s most influential construction union, the CFMEU, stated that it would ban these products from mid-2024 if the Federal Government does not. Trade unions no longer have the level of influence or numbers to achieve these sorts of bans. As with asbestos many years ago, such campaigns risk taking more credit for the potential occupational safety and health reforms than they deserve.
The Australian Government is set to introduce new workplace sexual harassment laws and obligations through Parliament. In The Saturday Paper on November 5 2022 (paywalled), businesswoman Lucy Hughes Turnbull wrote a short article that reminds us of the purpose of the new laws.
“The whole idea of the Me Too movement and the Respect@Work report was to make workers safer. So it was surprising that the politicians who resisted some of the Jenkins recommendations are often the ones most willing to drape themselves in worker safety gear. Protection from abuse and harassment is another key aspect of safety, like guardrails and fire exit signs. Now the legal system recognises it as such.links added
This latest work safety bill is the best gift the parliament could give to mark the fifth anniversary of the global Me Too movement. Together with more paid parental leave and greater access to more affordable childcare, it has been a great few weeks for women and indeed all Australians.”
Further to the recent article about the 2004 Maxwell Report, it is useful to note the recommendations peppered throughout the report, as collated by K Lee Adams. Although aimed at the Victorian Workcover Authority and WorkSafe Victoria, these are interesting ideas that could be asked of any occupational health and safety (OHS) authority currently. Some have already been addressed; others were posed 18 years ago and have not progressed. The recommendations have been numbered for easier reference.
Journalist Ben Schneiders has written an excellent book about wage theft in Australian businesses – where it came from, why it persists, and the inequality it generates through institutional and wilful exploitation. What is missing is a chapter, at least, on the occupational health and safety (OHS) contexts of this exploitation. OHS is touched on but is also missed when discussing some of the pay and working conditions.
Australia’s trade union movement has long been active on the issue of workplace psychological harm. Its 1997 Stress At Work survey of members led directly to the creation of workplace bullying and occupational violence guidance in Victoria and elsewhere. Over 20 years later, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) undertook another survey of its members (not publicly available), again on mental health at work.
Recently Australia’s Minister for Resources, Madeleine King, spoke at an event hosted by the Western Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The speech aimed to reassure the State’s mining sector to not feel threatened by the new Australian Labor Party government. However, her words about sexual harassment were a little odd.
According to the publicly released speech, King said this on the issue of the labour shortage in mining and resources:
On a chilly night in Ballarat, over a hundred people gathered outside the Town Hall, within which the City Council was meeting, to let the Council know that the awarding of millions of dollars of ratepayers’ money to a local company that admitted to breaching occupational health and safety (OHS) laws and that led to the deaths of two local workers was not acceptable.
The event seem coordinated by the local Trades Hall Council, for the usual inflatable rat and fat cat were next to the ute, which was blasting out protest songs. Almost all the speakers were trade unionists, although one was Andy Meddick from the Animal Justice Party. The protest may not have achieved the changes that many speakers called for, but as is the case with these types of events, Council has given some ground with a likely review of the OHS procurement criteria.