Poor OHS consultation creates COVID disputes

One of the first Australian companies to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations, SPC, was back in the newspapers today concerning booster shots. SPC’s Chairman, Hussein Rifai, said he will not be making boosters compulsory:

“After rolling out a full vaccination policy in August, Rifai’s SPC workers have already beaten him to the third dose.
“We’re just not seeing a need for it,” Rifai says of mandating boosters. “Everybody is just going out and doing it.””

The Australian, Janury 5 2022

The primary objection to mandatory vaccinations was insufficient consultation with workers on what was fundamentally an occupational health and safety (OHS) matter.

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Good solid OHS profile on which to base a change strategy

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) recently released its latest State of Work Health and Safety in Australia 2021 report called “Work Shouldn’t Hurt“. ACTU’s Liam O’Brien said

“The ACTU’s 2021 Work Shouldn’t Hurt Survey revealed that 80% of workers who are injured or made ill at work do not even make a workers’ compensation claim, in the case of insecure workers this jumps to 95%. This highlights that the 120,000 workers who made a claim last year is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to measuring health and safety at work”

This is no surprise to those concerned with occupational health and safety (OHS). Sadly, the ACTU report was thin on possible solutions.

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Some OHS approaches need the Industrial Relations touch

Several years ago, there was a proposal to produce a book of research linked to the work and themes of Professor Michael Quinlan. That book became “The Regulation and Management of Workplace Health and Safety“, and I recently obtained an affordable copy for my Summer break. (An excellent book review has been written by Eric Tucker on which this article is based)

There are many labour and industrial relations concepts in the book, many that I had to look up – pluralism, unitarism, politicalism. Read enough industrial relations (IR) research papers, and these terms might become second nature, but occupational health and safety (OHS) texts (what few there are of them) seem simpler and blander, generally avoiding the politics of work and therefore the politics of safety. Most of the recent OHS books seem to be dominated by Leadership and neuroscience *.

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OHS remains the bastard child of HR and IR

There continues to be a competitive tension in Australia between the professions (if they are professions) of Human Resources (HR) and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS). This has been most obviously on display in relation to sexual harassment and the psychological harm that results.

Recently Marie Boland, about to be the 2021 Residential Thinker at the University of South Australia, spoke about this tension and much more in an online lecture about “HR: A Human Resources or a Human Rights approach to work health and safety“. At that lecture, Boland said that she pins her hopes for improvement on the new Work Health and Safety Regulations because

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OHS progress needs out of the box thinking

It is generally understood that the attempt to harmonise Australia’s occupational health and safety (OHS) laws failed to achieve the level of change and integration expected. The laws are more harmonised than they were but each jurisdiction claimed special needs and so multiple jurisdictions continue to exist with their own laws and one State, Victoria, is still giving the bird to the rest through poorly justified arguments and pigheadedness. This unwillingness to even consider change, outside of established parameters, is a major impediment to the development of safe workplaces and work practices.

For example, Australia still desires nationally consistent OHS laws as this exchange between Deborah Knight, of radio station 2GB and the CEO of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, shows:

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Attendee list of IR Minister’s business roundtable

Last week, Australian business and union representatives failed to gain the additional support on COVID-19 issues they wanted from the Federal Government during their meeting with the Industrial Relations Minister, Michaelia Cash. The Minister’s media release of the event seems to indicate business as usual.

One piece of information that has not been released before is a list of the organisations that attended. That list, published below and in no particular order, shows the attendees but, perhaps more interesting is those who were not invited.

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Does the tail wag the dog or vice versa?

Trade union opposition to mandatory vaccinations against the Covid-19 virus continues, primarily because they feel left out of the conversation at SPC. However, the support for at least not dismissing mandatory vaccinations is growing.

In The Australian on August 18 2021, the lawyer advising SPC on its vaccination policy, Joel Zyngier of Gilchrist Connell, said

“Twelve months ago we didn’t have the option of vaccination; it wasn’t a reasonably practicable step. Six months ago, we didn’t have the option of vaccination; it wasn’t a reasonably practicable step. Now it’s a reasonably practicable step and so it’s something that employers must consider as part of their occupational health and safety or work health and safety duties,”

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