Most of the international reporting in June 2021 was about the G7 meeting, but the International Labour Organisation (ILO) also conducted a World of Work Summit as part of its 109th International Labor Conference. Several world leaders recorded messages for the event, and two are particularly interesting – President Joe Biden and Pope Francis. Such statements do have global influence and can support local occupational health and safety (OHS) initiatives.
Given that the protection of worker health and safety will gain more attention and support under progressive parties and governments, the release of the 2021 National Platform for the Australian Labor Party (ALP) is notable. The 2021 document, unsurprisingly, focuses on the role of Health and Safety Representatives, appealing to its financial and political trade union base as major influencers on occupational health and safety (OHS).
This article will focus on the chapters in both the 2021 and 2018 platform documents related to safe and healthy workplaces, although there are OHS-related issues dotted throughout both documents.
Last week the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) issued a media release describing the meeting of Work Health and Safety Ministers presenting a
“… huge step forward on mental health…”
The “step” is more walking on the spot than a step forward as the obligation to address psychological hazards in the workplace has existed in Australia for decades. It has just been ignored.
However, what caught my attention was this statement:
“Up to 45 per cent of mental health issues are attributable to work…..”
On May 20, 2021, Australia’s Work Health and Safety (WHS) Ministers to discuss a range of occupational health and safety (OHS) matters. One matter will be the inclusion of a specific requirement on employers that, according to the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU):
“…. would finally require employers to identify and address risks to mental health, in the same way, they are required to with risks to physical health.”
What the ACTU fails to make clear is why this regulatory change is required when the duty to provide a physically and psychologically safe and healthy workplace already exists in the current OHS/WHS laws in Australia.
The ACTU does, however, with the help of the Australia Institute and Centre for Future Work, provide more data on work-related mental health. The union movement is one of the few voices that acknowledge the structural elements of OHS but fails to consider any options other than regulation and, with a federal conservative government in power, it is unlikely to receive an attentive audience.
Presenteeism has largely been analysed through the principles and managed through the actions of the Human Resources profession. The COVID19 pandemic has changed the presenteeism conversation. There seems to be more enforcement of occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations on employees to not present a hazard to their work colleagues and customers and, therefore, to remain home.
On May 5 2021, in Darwin, the Australian Labor Party’s Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations, Tony Burke, spoke about presenteeism at a Transport Workers Union meeting. He said that the COVID19 pandemic showed that “a third of the workforce in Australia didn’t have sick leave” and:
Recently the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) made a curious submission to the Federal Government’s Senate Select Committee on Job Security. This submission (not yet available online) illustrates the ACTU’s political and ideological position of job security and precarious work, including the occupational health and safety (OHS) impacts, but it could have been more convincing and helpful.
Here is its section on Insecure Work and Safe Workplaces, the last section before the Conclusion:
At yesterday’s memorial for workers, Victoria’s Minister for Workplace Safety, Ingrid Stitt (pictured above), announced more financial support for the families of deceased workers. She also pledged that the prevention of illness and injury will remain a focus of WorkSafe Victoria and the government, but the centrepiece of her speech was additional post-incident funding.
According to a media statement in support of her appearance at the memorial outside the Victorian Trades Hall, she announced
“…an increase in support delivered by WorkSafe Victoria’s Family Liaison Officers and Family Support Specialists in the first weeks following a workplace death [including] … appointing external Bereavement Support Workers, who will work with WorkSafe and families to ensure ongoing support is available, particularly ahead of important milestones relating to workplace deaths.”
The Minister’s commitment is consistent with the position of the Andrews Government for some time, especially since the campaign for Industrial Manslaughter penalties. The challenge may come from lobbying for grants for these support services.