Last week, the Australian Parliament passed workplace relations legislation that included a Right-To-Disconnect.
The Australian Greens announced on February 7, 2024, that the Right-To-Disconnect (RTD) bill would pass Parliament as part of workplace relations reforms. On February 8, 2024, the mainstream media wrote as if the laws had already been passed. However, several issues with these laws indicate they are unlikely to be applied in practice as widely as advocates claim and in the way anticipated.
The closer the RTD laws come to reality, the more useless they appear.
In many Australian businesses, “program is king”. Deadlines must be met, whatever the circumstances. Occupational health and safety (OHS) advisers often bristle at this reality because they know that health and safety will be sacrificed to meet those deadlines. If this reality is to be changed, it is necessary to pay more attention to economics and its influence on the decision-making of business owners, and not just on the OHS effects of those decisions.
“Most disciplines can be described by the focus of their attention or by their basic assumptions: we could say that economists study the economy or that they assume that a fundamental principle of human behaviour is the desire to “maximise utility”. If we can buy an identical product in two shops at two different prices, we will buy the cheaper one. From that simple assumption an increasingly complex web is spun.”page 18
The Victorian government has released the final report of the Legislative Council Economy and Infrastructure Committee’s inquiry into the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (WorkCover Scheme Modernisation) Bill. Many readers will already be asleep after that sentence. Forgive me, it is accurate, but is the report of any use? It certainly progresses the debate on psychosocial regulations.
Denise Zumpe is an Australian occupational health and safety (OHS) professional who focuses on workplace health and safety matters in the transport sector. Below is a letter that she intended to send to The Age and writer Esther Linder outlining some inaccuracies in an Australian Associated Press article (paywalled) concerning the jailing of Cris Large, a court case discussed in an earlier SafetyAtWorkBlog article.
“A former transport executive has been jailed for up to three years for his reckless workplace behaviour in the lead-up to a crash that killed four police officers on Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway.”
The AAP article appeared in a number of Australian media. An amended version appeared on ABC News.
This week, the Australian Parliament debates further workplace relations legislative system changes. These will have occupational health and safety (OHS) impacts, usually indirectly; however, one clear OHS element in the proposed legislation is the Right-to-Disconnect.
This change has been a long time coming and has clear and proven mental health and social benefits for workers, but you won’t hear much of the OHS justification in the media. Most of the business opposition has been alarmist noise claiming the world will end. According to the Australian Financial Review (AFR) editorial on February 1 2024. Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke:
A fundamental aim of occupational health and safety (OHS) is the prevention of harm. To determine the most effective ways of preventing work-related harm, OHS professionals must investigate the source of harm. This requires them to look beyond their own workplaces to socioeconomic factors. Greed is the source of almost all of the world’s economic woes.
Greed manifests in the OHS context by employers not allocating sufficient resources for people to work safely and healthily. This greed, this seeking of maximum profits and excessive wealth, is supported by legislative, financial and social institutions. A new book by Ingrid Robeyns – “Limitarianism, – The Case Against Extreme Wealth” – offers several examples of how greed creates unsafe work.