ACTU Congress’ draft OHS policies deserve serious analysis

Pages from draft-2015-actu-congress-policies-2015-consolidatedThe Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) commences its 2015 Congress this week.  Each year around 800 trade union delegates meet to discuss changes to policies and to develop or refine strategies. This year the ACTU released its draft policies publicly prior to the Congress.  These policies have a long and strong historical and industrial relations context.  Occupational health and safety (OHS) is an important part of these policies and should spark discussions in the union movement and the OHS profession.

Early in the document, the ACTU states its “bargaining agenda” in which is included

“better work, life and family balance.” (page 7)

Curiously, the ACTU has chosen “better” rather than “safe”.  Better is a more inclusive term but harder to define.  Better for whom?  Better could be better paid or more secure or safer.

Trade unionists often see OHS as being monitored and enforced through the mechanism of the Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) and would argue that OHS is throughout all the draft policies due to the HSR role but there are more workplaces in Australia without HSRs than with and it is worth considering the policies as independent from the HSR structure, if that is possible..

Login or subscribe to SafetyAtWorkBlog to continue reading.

Motivation needed from Prime Minister on OHS laws

In July 2010, Prime Minister Julia Gillard mentioned OHS harmonisation in an election debate.  She said that OHS harmonisation was one of her achievements but less than two years later, at the Australian Council of Trade Union (ACTU) Congress, there is no mention of harmonisation in her speech.  The only mention of safety was in terms of truck drivers:

“And we’ve moved to protect the rights of cleaners.  We’ve moved to improve the laws for outworkers. We’ve moved so that a truck-driving cabin being a workplace […] can be a safer workplace, so that truck driver gets back home that evening.”

The Prime Minister audience was trade unionists and perhaps they need motivation and support and acknowledgement for their efforts in difficult economic and political times but there is a big move from harmonising the OHS laws across a country to determining a truck cabin as a workplace (which it has been for decades in some States).

The 2012 ACTU Congress included industrial manslaughter on its agenda.  Its OHS and Rehabilitation policy stated:

“Congress  affirms  that  industrial  manslaughter  should  be  an  offence  under occupational health and safety legislation or other legislation as most appropriate. The elements of the offence should be:  A worker dies in the course of employment or  at a place of work or is injured or contracts a disease, injury or illness in the course of employment and later dies;  The  conduct  (by  way  of  act  or  omission)  of  a  person  caused  the  death,  injury  or illness; and  The person was reckless or negligent about causing serious harm or death to the worker.”

Industrial manslaughter seems a poisoned political concept but it remains a potential motivator in Australia even though it is a reality in the UK.  Without motivation from the Prime Minister, other issues will fill the void.

Kevin Jones