OHS and wage theft

Australia is several years into a scandal of underpayment of workers referred to, by some, as wage theft. Occupational health and safety (OHS) would not normally figure in a wages and industrial relations (IR) scandal but the scandal has a legitimate OHS context.

The previous, and ongoing, scandals are not going to be summarised in this article as there are plenty of articles elsewhere in lots of different media but there is a common thread in many of the scandals. Workers are not being paid for some of the time they spend at work, work that is commonly described as unpaid overtime. This unpaid overtime extends the working day, for a variety of reasons, and OHS may not accommodate these additional hours (as they are “not official”) or OHS may be “stretched”, or risks downplayed.

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Mental health and “workplace disability”

Deutsche Welle‘s regular program “World in Progress” reported on Work in its December 18 2019 edition. It includes discussions of exploitation and trafficking of Nigerian women and South Korean workers being pressured to reluctantly attend work functions. Of particular relevance to the theme of this blog is the last report in the program when workplace psychological health is discussed.

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Looks good but could be better

The Australian Financial Review on October 1 2019 contained an exclusive report on consulting firm (paywalled) Deloitte’s approach to mental health at work matters coinciding with National Safe Work Month. The original document is unlikely to be publicly released but Edmund Tadros‘ report provides some quotes and insights. The initiative seems very positive until you consider it in light of organisational changes recommended to control and prevent this psychological hazards from Safe Work Australia (SWA) guidance.

Tadros quotes Deloitte’s Australian CEO Richard Deutsch:

“Mr Deutsch said in the message that individual differences could mean “what I find stressful you may find motivating, and vice versa. I don’t want anyone to feel their health and wellbeing is compromised because of work”.

This broad statement fits with the employer’s duties under occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, so it’s a good start. But doubts about the strategy start to emerged when Deutsch mentions workload, a contentious issue for Deloitte’s junior staff:

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Caution. Misery (and Enlightenment) Ahead.

Having been born in the north of England, I enjoy watching movies and TV shows from there, even though I need subtitles sometimes. As a child watching Ken Loach’s film Kes for school, I thought that I could easily have been that kid standing in a cold muddy soccer pitch on an estate not far from our commission house. (I have been told our previous house was demolished because it was in a block of slums) So Loach’s latest film sounded interesting and given that it depicted life in the precarious and “gig” economy, I recently joined the hundreds in the audience at the Melbourne International Film Festival to watch “Sorry We Missed You”.

I really enjoyed the film but found the story very upsetting. It’s taken me almost a week to starting writing this article and the trailer still makes me cry, so I am split on whether to recommend you see the film.

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The jury remains out on standing desks but maybe we are asking the wrong questions

The 20th Congress of the International Ergonomics Association in Florence Italy recently concluded.  Australia’s Professor David Caple attended and brought the latest research into the benefits of sit/stand desks to the September meeting of the Central Safety Group in Melbourne.  Caple said that evidence remains confusing on this increasingly popular piece of office furniture and echoed the modern approach to occupational health and safety (OHS) matters – look at what the work involves and how and where people do it.

Caple explained how large companies are moving away from open-plan offices to those designed around “activity-based work or

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