Industrial Manslaughter laws explained to Senate inquiry

The trade union push for Industrial Manslaughter laws in Australia continues as the various State and Federal elections loom.  Last week the Senate Inquiry into Industrial Deaths heard the clearest explanation of the need for these laws for some time as Dr Paul Sutton of the Victorian Trades Hall Council went beyond the usual chants of “what do we want? when do we want it?”

Sutton’s proposal for the Victorian laws differs from Queensland’s by taking inspiration from England  to pierce the corporate veil to the senior manager level rather than leaving it at the top executive level. 

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Industrial Manslaughter laws likely for Victoria

With little surprise, at the Australian Labor Party (ALP) Conference in Victoria on 26 May 2018, Premier Daniel Andrews has included the introduction of Industrial Manslaughter laws as a formal part of the campaign for re-election in November 2018.

According to his media release, if re-elected,

“.., employers will face fines of almost $16 million and individuals responsible for negligently causing death will be held to account and face up to 20 years in jail.

A re-elected Andrews Labor Government will make sure all Victorians are safe in our workplaces, with the offence to also apply when an employer’s negligent conduct causes the death of an innocent member of the public..”

There are a lot of steps between an incident and Industrial Manslaughter charges. 

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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