OHS Rights in Australia under threat

OHS Rights in Australia under threat from national model laws

A meeting of Occupational Health and Safety Reps and delegates at Trades Hall has called on the Victorian Government to reject recommendations that would reduce the rights of Victorian workers. At the meeting a workplace deaths advocate, an ambulance officer and manufacturing worker united to warn that the rights of Victorian workers and their OHS Representatives would be reduced if the full suite of recommendations for new National Model Laws were introduced.

A Report on proposed National Model Laws governing Occupational Health and Safety, developed by an independent panel over the past 12 months, has been handed to the Federal, State and Territory Governments and follows a 2007 Rudd election committment. Workplace meetings across Victoria over the last two weeks have been calling on the Victorian government to reject a number of recommendations made by the Report. This call was echoed by a meeting of OHS Representatives today, called by Victoria’s peak union body, the Victorian Trades Hall Council.

 

OHS Reps and delegates vote to fight for the highest rights

The Report, released in early February, recommends that employees not be able to talk to their OHS Representative until an issue becomes a ‘dispute’, a provision which unions say would just go towards making more disputes on health and safety matters. It also recommends that any individual worker or employer would be able to take an OHS Rep to a tribunal for “neglecting their functions” – a provision unions point out would put greater duties on a voluntary role than exists anywhere in the developed world.

Unions are also concerned about threats to training rights for OHS Representatives and the proposed absence of ‘risk management’ (how bad is the problem?) from any future OHS Act, as well as what important matters might end up relegated to regulations.

“The Panel was asked to do a job. It went beyond its job. We support any steps by the Victorian government to protect Victorian lives and ensure we keep the best parts of our current health and safety Act.” said Brian Boyd, Trades Hall Council Secretary.

Speakers at today's meeting highlighted the impact of the laws on ordinary working people.

Cathy Butcher, Coordinator of the VTHC OHS Unit, said Victorian workers had some of the best OHS rights in the country and out lined union efforts to ensure measures that undermined those rights were not adopted.

It was noted by Marcus Clayton of law firm Slater & Gordon that the OHS Act in Victoria is an example of "living law" that is used on the shop floor, which deserved protection.

Delegates at the meeting adopted the following resolution.

Resolution from OHS Representatives meeting, Trades Hall 02/04/09

This meeting of OHS Representatives and delegates calls on the Victorian State Government to reject a number of the recommendations made by the Panel for the National Review into Model OHS Laws. 
This call is made on the basis, that if implemented:

  • Many recommendations would reduce the rights of Victorian workers and OHS Representatives and
  • That the recommendations represent a lost opportunity for the improvement of the rights of Victorian workers and OHS Representatives, by inclusion of many other provisions currently in other States’ OHS laws.

Key areas of concern are:

    • Rights of workers
    • Rights, Protection and powers of OHS Representatives
    • Risk Management and
    • Tripartism

Other areas of concern include:

    • Onus of proof on employers
    • Union right to prosecute and 
    • Right of entry

The Review Panel was asked to do a job.  The Panel has gone beyond its job.  Its gross mistakes must now be fixed.

This meeting endorses Victorian Trades Hall Council to seek further urgent meetings with the Premier and Minister to protect and improve the rights of Victorian workers and OHS Representatives.

We call on the Victorian Brumby government to vigorously pursue its policy that there be no reduction in OHS standards in all forums.

We also commit to an ongoing campaign, to actively involve members at workplaces, lobbying of State and Federal MPs and highlighting through the media the importance of OHS in our workplaces.

Finally we call on the Rudd government to ensure that the directive of COAG  that “there be no reduction or compromise in standards” be adhered to.

Read more about the campaign in Australia