Interview: Rock Solid
Industrial: Eight Simple Rules for Employing My Teenage Daughter
Politics: The Johnnie Code
Energy: Fission Fantasies
History: All The Way With Clarrie O'Shea
International: Closer to Home
Economics: Taking the Fizz
Unions: Stronger Together
Review: Montezuma's Revenge
Poetry: Fair Go Gone
The Locker Room
When the Truth Hurts
The Westie Wing
Workers have until 7th July to respond to the review of the NSW OH&S Act currently underway. Ian West reports it's taken over 11 years to re-build it since the former Liberal Government finished wrecking it, and workers are relying on State Labor to hold out against the extremist OH&S takeover...
It's evident a major paradigm shift in politics is underway at State and Federal levels and it's providing clear differences between Labor and the Conservatives.
In NSW, extremists of the Liberal Party now control the NSW Liberal Party Executive by 21 votes to 3. Right wing zealots, whose agenda is total domination, have wiped out the Moderate faction.
So intent on the mission to destroy their Liberal colleagues, they haven't noticed the NSW and Australian public have woken up to the narrow pursuit of rationalist, individualist ideology - and decided they don't actually like it.
Across the country the Australian public have had a gutful of hearing how the economy is in such great shape while everywhere their infrastructure crumbles. The public are okay with borrowing money to build infrastructure and fund services. They want decent money spent on Community Services and Mental Health for example. They want a community, not an economy.
In this context, the NSW Labor Government is well placed to hold the line on one of the most important work issues - Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S).
Now, OH&S isn't exactly a sexy issue, nor is it particularly well understood by the general community. But that doesn't mean it is any less important in building and preserving dignity for workers, their families and their communities.
The idea of OH&S laws is to have in place a system that helps ensure people can keep working to house, clothe and feed themselves and their families.
In many ways OH&S is the twin sibling of our State Industrial Relations Act - and they both work well for the community of NSW. There is a need in NSW to implement and promote the best OH&S laws in the country.
But the OH&S Act and Regulations have been under sustained attack by the extreme boss's union that always puts itself first and the community last, Employers First, who put a 112 page submission to the Minister explaining how the sky will fall in...
To read the Employers First submission is to believe there are no businesses left in NSW. They've either been crushed by the onerous burdens of providing safe workplaces, or moved back to the Dickensian 1800s to make a dollar.
They have compiled a hit-list that would play Russian Roulette with work safety in NSW.
The first bullet - targets the employer's liability in the event of death or injury in your workplace. It also is designed to maim regulations and codes that are currently developed in consultation with employers and workers.
The second bullet - is aimed at killing the employer's principal duty to provide a safe workplace. CEOs like to talk about world's best practice when getting their next pay rise or share options, but apparently aiming for world best practice for OH&S is a bridge too far. If the Employers First doctrine is implemented, employees would be blamed for their injuries wherever possible. The second shot also takes out an employer's liability when they rely on the labour hire company or the advice of an OH&S consultant. We've all heard the stories of how large companies can hide behind corporate veils...
The third bullet - is designed to take out the responsibility of directors in the event of a workplace death. What about Joel Exner, just 16 years old, and 3 days into his first job when he fell 15 metres to his death? We know from history there's no action without responsibility.
The fourth bullet - simply blows WorkCover away.
The fifth bullet - eliminates employees and unions from developing "reasonable" safety management systems, leaving employers to bargain with the regulator on the basis of the nature, size and industry of classes of employers. Under Employers First proposal, safety systems would be "flexible" depending on the size of the employer and in what sector they operate. More revealing though, is the talk about multi-state operations - that is they want the lowest common denominator even for the biggest companies.
The sixth bullet in the chamber - is aimed at union official's foreheads and their right of entry. Employers First wants worker's representatives to have no general right of entry or search, inspection and production of documents powers. In addition, and in respect of any general offence about false representations they claim "there may be a danger that employers could be precluded from engaging unlicensed workers under supervision in some instances." (Ahhh, ignorance is bliss)
Withy pretty much nothing left of our OH&S system, Employers First - whose motto is "Complete Employer Protection" - concludes its attack on the system that has seen the level of deaths fall to their lowest in 18 years by saying;
"We...support a move to uniform national regulation, administered by the Australian Government using whatever head of constitutional power may be available and appropriate. There is now widespread and growing support for this to be undertaken by the Federal Government as a priority to eliminate the impossible statutory duties, complexities, inefficiencies, and inequities resulting from the different jurisdictions."
So there it is laid bare. Employers First wants John Howard and Kevin Andrews to take over OH&S. It would be a disaster and a massive step backwards for workers and their families in NSW. Every workplace would be an "AWB Scandal" waiting to happen - ("Nobody told me").
But we shouldn't acquiesce on this vital issue of OH&S simply because it faces an ideological attack from the extreme right of Australian business and politics. Feel good terms like flexibility and competitiveness are simply sheep's clotheing on a big bad wolf with an insatiable appetite.
One of the glaring contradictions in Employers First submission is that they advocate for a flexible system (which the NSW system already offers whilst still maintaining an increasingly safe workplace), and in the same breath ask for a universal approach.
But the scare campaign being put on by Employers' First appears to have had some effect.
The NSW Liberal Party's The Hon Greg Pearce, in responding to the Minister's Statement on the OH&S 2006 Bill, said, "Some of these changes have been requested by the Opposition and business in the State for a considerable period."
The extreme NSW Liberal leader of the attack on OH&S standards further stated, "As I said, the majority of the changes appear to head in the right direction, and certainly we look forward to reviewing the legislation in due course."
The extreme NSW Liberal continued, "The way in which the workers compensation laws were introduced in the past, whereby absolute obligations were imposed on employers, was outrageous. The fact that the Government will now rectify that situation is well and truly timely."
The extreme NSW Liberal added, "Business has been pointing out its concerns about the system, and the Opposition has been pointing out our concerns about it, for a very long time. The fact that the Government is finally recognising that it needs to harmonise some of our laws with interstate laws is also timely."
And to conclude on the existing draft legislation on the WorkCover website, the extreme NSW Liberal read onto the Hansard, "To the extent that some of these changes are supported by the Opposition and reflect our policies, it is probably a good thing that they are introduced as quickly as possible and that we do not have to wait until we are in government, in March next year, to fix up this Government's mess."
Make no mistake, OH&S is vital to workers in NSW. And the slow progress we have made in bringing down deaths and injury and workplace is testimony to the hitherto sensible approach adopted by NSW Ministers for IR, Jeff Shaw and John Della Bosca.
The NSW Community has until 7th July to respond to the current draft, before WorkCover drafts the next lot of OH&S provisions, which would be in effect for another 5 years in NSW. That's a very long time for workers if the changes that eventuate undo the work that has occurred to date.
If OH&S is going to be diminished in NSW workplaces, then the extreme right of the Liberal Party and of Business needs to be responsible for doing it.
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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