Beaconsfield Coronial Inquest Walkout

On 22 July 2008 the Tasmanian Coroner continued with his inquest into the death of Larry Knight at the Beaconsfield mine on 25 April 2006. Shortly after the start the legal team representing the mine walked out. Newspaper, radio and TV have covered this extraordinary development. Other reports in SafetyAtWorkBlog told of the lawyers’ attempts…

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OHS Law Review and the International Labour Organisation

Several submissions, from those currently publicly available, to Australia’s National OHS Law Review have referenced OHS conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). It is early days in the process of assessing submissions and one would expect more details on ILO Conventions to come from submissions of the ACTU and ACCI, both members of the…

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Australian employer group at the ILO

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On 9 June 2008, Peter Anderson, CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), addressed the 2008 International Labour Conference. The ACCI is an employer association that under the previous CEO, Peter Hendy, was seen by some as a business and economic mouthpiece for the then conservative government of Prime Minister John Howard. Whether this was true or not, it is interesting that Peter Hendy is now a political adviser to the Opposition Leader, Brendan Nelson.

Anderson spoke at the ILO conference about how the ACCI needs modernising whilst maintaining its core values. The only major change in Australia over the last 12 months has been the replacement of a conservative government with a labor government representing a substantial cultural and political switch. The ACCI has realised that it was too closely linked to the conservative political parties and, although business is strongly capitalist, to better represent its constituents, it needed to reflect the values of a broader range of its constituents.

These values, Anderson reiterates, are commitments to

  • an open market;
  • private sector entrepreneurship; and
  • employment as a social motivator.

Anderson states that

“we must do things differently, and not fall back to old prejudices or failed economic prescriptions when things go tight.”

He urges the ILO to provide social policy with a higher profile and advises the government to use public funds to enable a private investment framework. He emphasise that the ACCI can work well with unions and specifically addresses contemporary OHS matters.

“We can now show leadership to industry in this regard [working with trade unions], as there is common work to be undertaken – health and safety, work and family and workforce skills but a few examples.”

Peter Anderson emphasises, perhaps too much, Australia’s position in the Asia-Pacific region. He describes the region as “the powerhouse of globalisation”. This is riding on the coat-tails of China and India and applies Asia-Pacific in a very broad sense.

The ACCI speech at the ILO conference was carefully balanced to maintain its position as an employer delegate and to flag to its members that its approach will change. It outlines a changed approach which should be interesting in the upcoming hard negotiations necessary on industrial relations and workplace safety.

The Challenge for Australia’s OHS Law Review

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Everyone is eagerly anticipating the issues paper of Australia’s review into model OHS law but talking with many people at the SIA08 conference this week, it seems that people are anticipating more from the review than the review was established. The review will be looking at OHS law and law establishes the parameters for managing workplace safety. However, OHS law is what underpins safety management and it is easy to focus on the law to the detriment of managing safety in workplaces.

Employers don’t need to be familiar with the intricacies of OHS law. They need to understand their legal obligations. Legal advice is usually sought if something goes wrong. So how will the current OHS law review change how we manage safety? I asked Tracey Browne of the Australian Industry Group for her opinion. Tracey said the review “has the potential to be revolutionary but everyone needs to realise that changing the law is not going to change anything on its own.”

To progress OHS law many of the issues that have come to dominate discussion over the last 30 years will need to be put aside. Of all the participants in the review process, Tracy believes that the OHS regulators may have the hardest time in achieving this position.
Cathy Butcher of the Victorian Trades Hall agrees that there are considerable agreements on OHS law but she identified some substantial sticking points. In a panel discussion at the Safety In Action Conference she listed the following big differences:

  • The removal of “reasonably practicable”
  • The union right to prosecute
  • The reintroduction of “risk assessment” into the Victorian regulations and OHS Act
  • Compliance Codes to “go the way of the dodo”

Whether this is an ambit claim will be seen soon through the OHS Law Review process.