Interview: The Reich Stuff
Economics: Crime and Punishment
Environment: Beyond The Wedge
International: The End Of The Lucky Country
Safety: Tests Fail Tests
Politics: Labo(u)r Day
Human Rights: Arabian Lights
History: Labour's Titan
Review: Foxy Fiasco
Poetry: Then I Saw The Light
The Locker Room
What�s In a Name?
Let's Start A New Party
The Westie Wing
Agitation on industrial manslaughter has been a focus of the trade union movement in New South Wales for many years now. Finally there seems to be real movement from the Government.
The individuals, activists and officials who make up the many trade unions that have rallied, lobbied, stopped-work and mobilised on this issue have provided an example of how important the trade union movement is to the everyday lives of people in NSW.
Those efforts have helped the Government to create a strong Occupational Health and Safety system. It is now an essential right to come home from work safely, where once it was a fringe benefit.
As Industrial Relations Minister John Della Bosca said,
"The community wants directors and managers to pay as much attention to the health and safety of their workers as they do to the dividends paid to their shareholders. If you have a safe working environment you are more likely to have a profitable company."
I haven't agreed with many things that have come out of the Department of Commerce (including the name) but I did agree with the Minister when he made the above comments as part of a statement to Parliament recently.
I also support the Minister in acting upon the advice of the legal panel chaired by Professor Ron McCallum that examined the legislative intricacies of the workplace death issue.
The panel recommended that the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000 be amended to include an offence specifically relating to workplace fatalities, including higher penalties for first offenders.
The Minister's draft Occupational Health and Safety Legislation Amendment (Workplace Fatalities) Bill 2004 provides for up to 2 years imprisonment for first time offenders and 5 years imprisonment for subsequent offenders. The fines would be up to $165,000 for individuals and $1.65 million for corporations.
Some will say these penalties will not go far enough if the Bill is passed into law. It must be recognised that these changes are a rare and important window of opportunity for the labour movement to ensure that there is a strong chance that negligence causing death in the workplace will be punished by imprisonment.
This opportunity also highlights the fact that employee and employer organisations have an ongoing primary role in making the prevention of workplace injury and death paramount.
Where prevention fails, both employer and employee organisations will have a role in pursuing achievable prosecution to obtain justice for the families of those killed in the workplace.
There still needs to be improvements to the compliance system, especially in relation to Workcover, which needs to strengthen its efforts to proactively police safety on NSW worksites and respond promptly to accidents. A stricter reporting system also needs to be in place where non-reporting of work accidents is severely punished.
And larger fines for workplace deaths will remain pointless if the Debt Recovery Office continues to be unsuccessful in getting the fines paid promptly, if at all. There must be a strong deterrent to creating dangerous work conditions that continue to take the lives of one worker every two days on average.
According to the unions in the construction industry, there are still many companies out there operating without workers' compensation policies or even public liability insurance. Not only are these cowboys endangering the lives of their workers but also the lives of the public.
If this is the case, policing of basic corporate compliance is obviously failing. So the progress on workplace deaths legislation must be complemented by tighter controls on the actions of employers in relation to basic OHS and workers compensation requirements, otherwise the deaths we are all working to avoid will continue to occur.
Comments on the Draft Bill are to be submitted to the Minister's office by Friday November 12. When the Legislation is introduced into Parliament, as usual the devil will be in the detail, especially in areas like the scope of the appeals process.
For submission details and documents regarding the draft legislation on workplace deaths: http://www.workcover.nsw.gov.au/workplace+death.htm
Did you know...?
And for my spin on What's On in NSW Parliament, go to Ian West's Online Office at http://www.ianwestmlc.com.au/new.html
I am interested to hear feedback and ideas--you can contact Antony Dale or myself at Parliament House on (02) 9230 2052 or email me at [email protected].
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