Interview: Polar Eclipse
Industrial: Wrong Turn
Unions: Star Support
Workplace: Checked Out
Economics: Sold Out
Politics: Green Banned
History: Potted History
International: Curtain Call
Review: Little Fish
Poetry: Slug A Worker
The Locker Room
The Westie Wing
Some spoke of Stockholm Syndrome and coming to love one's captors. Others of the Nuclear Boy Scout ....
Yet others spoke of the 1986 Test in Madras where Dean Jones, stricken with vomiting, stomach and leg cramps asked Allan Border if he could go off the field for hospital treatment for dehydration. Whereupon his Captain goaded him with something along the lines of, "Righto, but can you tell them to send out an Australian."
And some talked about Gough Whitlam setting off an airport security scanner, only to comment, "I think you'll find it was my aura."
In the end, everyone was there to talk about Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S). And that is a truly beautiful thing.
More than 250 people - representing the two stakeholders Employee Unions and Employer Unions - as well as the service providers in the Public service, Academia, Occupational Health and Safety experts and consultants - took part in the 2005 Workplace Safety Summit held in Orange. The summit was a follow up on the 2002 Bathurst Summit.
As well as Minister John Della Bosca, we heard from Premier Morris Iemma who made a surprise and welcomed visit to the Summit as part of his country NSW tour. We heard from academic expert Dr Verna Blewett, Pop Scientist Karl Kruszelnicki, and Rugby Union International great come journalist/biographer Peter FitzSimons.
Morris talked about building on the work done in 2002, and announced several measures to address workplace safety in rural areas, building on the theme of his country tour. There was a comment from the floor to the effect that the changes made in 2001 meant that workers couldn't financially afford to be hurt at work.
That comment hung in the air as Morris announced 500 packages for farmers to get guards put on power take off shafts. The guards are simple but effective items that can prevent farm worker's clothing becoming entangled in the rotating drives, leading to fatalities or horrific loss of arms and legs.
Earlier this year, as part of the GPSC Inquiry into Personal Injury, I saw the effect of one of these preventable accidents on a man from Wagga who was de-gloved in a moment that changed his life forever.
John Della Bosca talked about working together and workers and employers taking ownership of the OH&S issue, and pointed out that despite the progress made in several areas towards ambitious health and safety targets, there were challenges ahead.
Not least of all, the Federal Government's retrograde stance on union access to worksites and the negative effect that will have on workplace safety for years to come. That aspect of Howard's attack will mean people will die and be needlessly maimed at work. Study after study, and ABS data shows Union worksites are safer.
There was particular mention of the Howard Government's renewed pilot attack on Unions, this time the Construction Industry, following its assault on the Maritime Union of Australia in 1998.
What I appreciated most about John's approach in Orange was the fact that he was there listening directly to stakeholders. I share the strongly held participant's view that there are two (2) stakeholders in OH&S - workers and employers. Everyone else has a role to play in assisting these two parties to make work places safer and healthier.
Dr Verna Blewett, from South Australia, made points about respect for and from employers and employees. Dr Blewett noted there were leaders at the coalface who influenced co-workers' attitudes towards OH&S.
Employers could influence attitudes, and so could opinion makers in the form of delegates and others who were leaders that had the respect of fellow workers. All employers right up the chain needed to take heed of the safety message, whilst workers needed to step up in a constructive manner. Fair enough - considering Dr Blewett also acknowledged that it is the employer who has the greater ability to make the changes that will save lives and prevent injuries.
Peter FitzSimons talked about how David Campese fell in love with himself at an early age and had remained faithful ever since, noting he and Campo had 108 tests between them (Peter told us he played seven, just quietly).
Peter talked about how the Parrot (that's Alan Jones) had changed the way Rugby was coached. Like a fist in a bucket of water, you can stir all you like, but when you take your hand out, the water finds its level. Personalities can dominate, but when they move on a void is inevitably left behind.
My time on the Workers Compensation Advisory Council from 1995 to 2000 emphasised to me how important it is for the two stakeholders to take responsibility and ownership of the difficulties and outcomes in regard to OH&S and workers compensation issues.
Peter related to the crowd OH&S was something that required devotion - and to illustrate Peter talked about a plate of bacon and eggs - the chicken's effort was to be lauded, but the pig, the pig had shown serious commitment.
Peter managed to keep a trade secret. The reason why someone would choose to run headlong into the front row of the New Zealand All Blacks - and enjoy it - was probably something best kept to oneself.
Peter explained that he had attended a function with esteemed scholars and academics at an Art Gallery opening, explaining he had just finished his seventeenth book (Peter is a top-selling author). The response - perhaps he should read some more.
Karl Kruszelnicki didn't breathe for over an hour, giving delegates a three hundred words a minute crash course in science and its application to Murphy's Law and Da Vinci and... well...
But on a more serious note, Employee delegates from the TCFUA raised issues from the floor during the plenary sessions - like the loophole in sections 9 and 10 on OH&S legislation that means employers and head contractors can escape OH&S obligations to outworkers when work is performed in individual worker's homes.
Employee delegates from the CFMEU raised issues like the need for protection from NSW in securing rights of access by union officials to workplaces, and delegates and workplace committees being able to work cooperatively. And they talked about the need to ensure parties found guilty for breaches like manslaughter were pursued for payments to ensure justice and provide some closure to victims' families.
TWU Delegates talked about Chain of Responsibility and proper education, implementation, enforcement, monitoring and compliance measures to overcome issues in the long haul trucking industry. These things will save lives and prevent catastrophic injury.
AWU delegates talked about the horrendous rates of injury in rural NSW and the need to work smarter and more cooperatively. And when faced with the three minute bell - that's 'ding ding' for the wind-up please delegate - indicated that when they heard that sound, they usually came out swinging.
Employer delegates talked about Premium Discount Schemes and tying OH&S fines to aggregate wage turnover. Why was it that BHP paid the same fine as a family business for OH&S breaches? There is no doubt that unscrupulous employers weigh up the cost effectiveness of doing the wrong thing.
Everyone talked about taking ownership of the Occupational Health and Safety issue - in the workplace, across industry, in government. The industry group sessions split off to develop Action Plans and Communiques on their specific areas of need.
Industry areas represented included Construction, Rural (including Agriculture and Forestry), Health and Community Services, Public Sector, Mining and Utilities, Manufacturing, Retail and Wholesale, Transport, Consumer and business services.
WorkCover had pre-prepared positions on industry areas, and over the course of the conference, delegates at the workshops threw ideas around and committed to updated and relevant approaches.
Implementation, carrying out and taking ownership of the Communiques and Action Plans will be vital.
Direction, targeting, education and monitoring will be pivotal. WorkCover has 301 Inspectors, and I trust they will be busy helping to ensure the targets are met. I trust they will have an Action Plan that can be viewed and measured.
And what's needed is the front-end preventative stuff - where the employer has the major role and full legal responsibility. Employers did acknowledge the legal responsibility and obviously the ultimate power to ensure work situations and practices are safe.
The workplace is the area and the place where they can drive down premiums.
I champion and share Employee Unions' concerns that under no circumstances should premiums be looked at, at the cost of proper and adequate compensation for injured workers.
But personalities can dominate, and when they move on a void can be left if they come on from on high, rather than working from the ground up.
The two stakeholders in the OH&S and Workers Compensation equation are the employers and the employees. They have reinforced this with me throughout my Industrial and Parliamentary career. Everyone else is a service provider. The Minister for Industrial Relations deserves our support and encouragement for taking advice directly from the stakeholders.
And it's appropriate for WorkCover to be the secretariat through which stakeholders' advice can be provided to the Minister - not as a diluter or distiller of that advice - but as a conduit.
The Minister has indicated the Government will respond in detail to the Industry Action Plans by the end of the year.
I continue to have an intense interest and commitment to the importance of this fundamental issue. I expect that the Action Plans, although not covered in detail during the report back sessions at Orange, will include all issues raised during the three sessions.
WorkCover's role now will be to ensure that all participants' concerns are given full expression.
In terms of further agenda-setting and the Howard attack on workers' rights, I believe there is an increased urgency to ensure appropriate standards are maintained, and that includes Codes of Practice that are supported and capable of being implemented and policed.
And Right of Entry will be central to the stakeholders' joint ownership of better and sustained outcomes.
If you require assistance accessing information from a NSW Government Department or a Minister, or have feedback and ideas for speeches, or if you believe you know an issue that should be looked at by one of the Parliamentary committees, contact me at Parliament House on (02) 9230 2052 or email [email protected]
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