Interview: Union for the Dispossessed
Unions: Joel's Law
National Focus: Spring Carnival
Bad Boss: Fina and Fiends
Industrial: The Price of War
Economics: Who's Got What
History: Containing Discontent
Review: An Honourable Wally
Poetry: The Colours of Discontent
Governing the Corporates
The Westie Wing
The Carr-Refshauge government has put in place some of the toughest workplace safety laws in the world, as is widely acknowledged. These measures have also allowed vital union and worker involvement in occupational health and safety.
Bob Carr rallied the 2003 ALP Conference on the tough OH&S laws in New South Wales. "But we can always do more", the Premier admitted.
He committed the Government to strengthening the law in this area and that the goal was clear: "any employer who knowingly causes a workplace death should face the full force of tough, effective laws."
That should be the case for any employer responsible for a death on a work site, whether due to negligence or otherwise. What's more is that the current penalties are too lenient and are not being enforced.
The essential issue is to prevent fatalities in the workplace with stricter laws. As many unions have stated, they do not want to see people going to jail for manslaughter, they want to see fewer workplace deaths.
At least 10,000 building workers and other unionists came to Macquarie Street on October 27. They were angry about the injustice of a 16 year-old being killed in his third day on the job and the harshest penalty the boss will get is a fine.
It is completely unacceptable that the company that employed Dean McGoldrick, a 17 year old who died on a Sydney building site in 2000, has only paid $1,800 of the $20,000 fine for being responsible for his death.
John Della Bosca, the Minister for Industrial Relations, which now comes under the 'super-ministry' of Commerce, has outlined an initial response to the latest workplace injuries and fatalities.
It includes the safety compliance crackdown by WorkCover on construction work above two storeys, which will target residential unit developments, industrial warehouse constructions and commercial developments.
Specific attention will be paid to at-risk groups, such as young or inexperienced workers and those from non-English speaking backgrounds.
The question remains, is WorkCover up to the task?
The Minister has also established a Taskforce on the investigation and prosecution of workplace fatalities. The Taskforce is to develop a protocol setting out clear investigative guidelines and the role of WorkCover, the Police, the Department of Public Prosecutions and the Coroner.
The Government aims to have the protocol in place before the end of the year.
Labor must make these initiatives work and have the courage to strengthen them where necessary. It is reasonable for the union movement to demand 'zero tolerance' on workplace death, in line with the tough stance on law and order.
While the incidence of workplace injuries has fallen significantly since the Carr government came to power in 1995, the rates of workplace death have remained the same. This is a trend that we can no longer accept.
Last year, 68 workers died from injuries at the workplace. We have to view every single life lost on the job as preventable.
That is a very worthwhile challenge to face. By ensuring accessibility, openness and the willingness to consult, Labor can make the 'creative partnership' a reality.
One aspect of this is holding briefings by Labor Council and forums for unions to exchange and develop ideas and goals with Labor parliamentarians.
The next briefing session by Labor Council, hosted by Tony Burke MLC and myself, will be held on December 3rd to discuss the current situation of workplace deaths and the Industrial Relations Commission.
This follows the successful briefing on the Secure Employment Test Case being run in the Commission by Labor Council.
These are the events that are helping to make the creative partnership a reality. We must remember that the Tories are itching to dismantle the progress we make.
The Federal government's record is certainly a bad indication of what might happen. The Premier made his opposition to Federal government's attack on workers clear at ALP Conference.
He said "The attack on Australian unionism is reaching a new intensity. Take the Cole Royal Commission. It attacks hard-won, fundamental rights--the right of entry, the right of inspection, freedom of association."
Worst of all was the proposal to institutionalise the assault on the union movement by creating a Building and Construction Commission, enforced by front line police.
It is clear that there is a lot of work to do in this State and around the country.
I congratulate ALP affiliates like the LHMU who are using the "organising model" to educate and involve their members in lobbying politicians about the issues that affect their daily quality of life.
It is the responsibility of Labor MPs like myself to listen to what workers are saying, to educate ourselves about the issues and to deliver the political wing's end of the bargain.
Legislation Watch: click to view bills from the current session of State Parliament.
The latest issue of my newsletter, Workers' Voice, is available on my website at www.ianwestmlc.com.au.
I am always interested to hear feedback and ideas--you can contact my office on (02) 9230 2052 or email me at [email protected]gov.au.
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