Disagreement on workplace bullying strategy increases in Australia 5

According to The Australian newspaper on 5 January 2012 the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is extremely critical of Safe Work Australia’s draft Code of Practice on Workplace Bullying. The ACTU has said that the draft code has a “fundamental flaw”

“… the failure to address workplace bullying in the same framework as any other workplace hazard/risk.”

This is a significant challenge but without access to the ACTU submission on the draft code it is difficult to determine the exact context of this fundamental flaw.

Of more concern is the apparent move by the ACTU, according to The Australian, to have single instances of inappropriate behavior covered by the workplace bullying code. This is contrary to the bullying concept that only repeated instances of abuse should be considered bullying.

Regardless of this challenge to established definitions, it is very hard to see how such a situation could be enforced by either OHS representatives or OHS regulators. The regulators have struggled for years with the existing definition and could have no effective role in workplaces if the unions’ wishes were successful. More…

Lawyer says OHS harmonisation has become a shambles 4

The 28 December 2011 edition of the Australian Financial Review (AFR) (not available online) quotes Australian labour lawyer, Michael Tooma, talking about the harmonisation of workplace safety laws:

“It’s descended into a farce, a shambles – only four jurisdictions are ready for the laws.”

This seems supported by the words of the recently-appointed Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, who says that the new Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) laws will cover 58% of the workforce. This also equates to 42% NOT being covered – hardly a success for harmony.

Victoria’s WorkCover Minister, Gordon Rich-Phillips, continues to miss the point of national harmonisation by continuing to argue against harmonisation with parochialism. He says that the new laws are very likely to increase the regulatory and cost burden without acknowledging that Victoria has many prominent businesses who operate nationally and will incur increased compliance costs due to his delay in the implementation of the harmonised laws.

The AFR article implies that a major reason for objection is that senior executives, the ridiculously named “C-suite”, will face increased accountability for decisions that affect worker safety. Perhaps, but this increase has been coming for some time and should have been anticipated by the C-suite.

The article also implies that hesitation over these laws comes from the increased accountability of senior public servants and departmental heads. Tooma acknowledges this change:

“To date, heads of departments in the public service have never been able to be held criminally liable under federal laws.”

The public service is going to be a fierce battleground considering that psychosocial issues are so prevalent in this sector. It will be fascinating (and sad) to watch senior executives in government departments being prosecuted under OHS laws for workplace bullying, excessive workloads and the generation of stress. (The size of the challenge may be seen by recent bullying issues in the Australian emergency services, WorkSafe Victoria and WorkCover NSW)

The AFR has been one of the very few newspapers reporting on OHS harmonisation but, not surprising given its specialized readership, it has focused on the business costs of implementation. Rarely has it discussed the positive benefits to safety management or the potential increase in worker safety. Perhaps there are none.

There is little safety innovation in the new laws. If OHS is about preventing harm, these laws are no improvement on the previous.

But then safety has rarely come from laws but from how people react to, or apply, the laws. The debate on harmonisation has been missing the voice of the safety profession in Australia but perhaps that’s because there is nothing new to say. Perhaps the management of safety will not have any fundamental change. It may be that the only change is that the CEOs begin to listen to their OHS advisers. Let’s hope that is enough.

Kevin Jones

Merry Christmas from SafetyAtWorkBlog 1

I want to personally thank all of the loyal readers of SafetyAtWorkBlog  for your support in the last twelve months.  The blog stats is kicking along nicely but its prominence in OHS discussions, particularly in Australia, is growing stronger.

This year the blog has been blessed by perceptive and controversial articles by Col Finnie and Yossi Berger, in particular.  These contributions spread the workload but also broaden the voice of the SafetyAtWorkBlog.  (Now if only the unsolicited advertising masquerading as blog contributions would stop…. )

I will be taking some time away from the blog in January but the Twitter account will continue to scour media sources around the world for relevant content.  Please consider following SafetyOZ on Twitter and please keep emailing your suggestions for articles and your OHS tip-offs (we follow-up each one).

All the best

Kevin Jones

Business silos extend to, and are supported by, the soft professions 5

Most managers complain about “silos” even though they often operate comfortably in one.  Having an organisational structure that operates without narrow parameters of professional turf is very difficult and sustainable change takes time.  Similarly many professions operate in silos and the safety profession is a good example.  Rarely does it “play well with others”.  A recent workplace relations survey report from the Australian law firm, Madgwicks, illustrates the silo of the professions and its impediment to change.

Most law firms that have occupational health and safety professionals sit the unit with the Workplace Relations portfolio, for good reasons mostly.  Workplace Relations, or Industrial Relations in other jurisdictions, deals with the pay and conditions of workers and the negotiation of these issues with employers and business owners.  “Pay” is mostly wages and the remuneration received for effort but “conditions’ is more inclusive with OHS a major, but often underplayed, component.

Madgwicks asked two significant questions:

“Currently which workplace relations issues are the most challenging for your business?” and

“Which workplace relations issues do you believe will be the most significant for your business?”

None of the responses (pictured below) to these questions included any occupational health and safety issues.  There was no stress.  Nothing on workloads or working hours.  Nothing on workplace bullying.