Political statements on OHS need to be tested

Today Australia’s Employment Minister, Senator Eric Abetz, released a statement concerning a change to the renewal of Comcare licences in the spirit of reducing business red tape but there are two mentions of workplace safety that are curious.

In the statement entitled “Comcare self-insurance licence change“, Senator Abetz has welcomed:

“…a reform that will see businesses save more than $1 million a year which can be reinvested in Work Health and Safety and jobs.”

and states

“This reform will reduce the regulatory burden, remove the cost of licence extensions in years two and four, and push back the costs of audit until year eight as well as ensure safer workplaces.”

The argument on reducing OHS red tape is that the cost savings can be reinvested into occupational health and safety measures but there seems to be no independent evidence to support this belief.

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Senator Abetz oversteps on workplace bullying claim

abetz.com.au - Joe McDonald 130314Anyone dealing with occupational health and safety (OHS), or in any profession, knows to be careful with one’s words in public.  This is particularly so when one is dealing with mental health issues or claims of workplace bullying.  This week Senator Eric Abetz, Australia’s Workplace Relations Minister, seems to have overstepped the mark by misrepresenting some Federal Court Orders as related to workplace bullying, when the Court made no such statement.  This could simply be dismissed as political hyperbole in the heat of the moment but this was no off-the-cuff remark.  He headlined his media release on 13 March 2014 as:

“Joe McDonald found guilty of workplace bullying – yet again. Bill Shorten must now act”.

According to Safe Work Australia, an organisation within Senator Abetz’s portfolio, workplace bullying is defined in the most recent national guide as

“repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.” (page 2)

Nowhere in the Federal Court orders*  is workplace bullying, or any other bullying, mentioned and the Federal Court has not found Joe McDonald guilty of workplace bullying. The best that can be said is that Joe McDonald has a history of intimidation on construction sites and that this has created tense relations between the workforce and employers (perhaps a confused safety culture) and generated delays in construction.

Does this all matter? Yes

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