Gillard won't guarantee no worker will be worse off

CANBERRA, Sept 14 
The federal government will not guarantee no worker will be worse off under new national occupational health and safety (OH&S) laws that come into operation at the end of 2011.

Trade unions fear the new regime will lead to a reduction in worker safety, accusing big business of getting its way.

The ACTU has embarked on a radio advertising campaign claiming the laws risk the lives of friends and family members.

"Australian workers can't live with second-rate safety," the ad says.

Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard says the new laws provide for increased penalties against employers when workers are hurt.

"And a right for workers, right around the country, to stop work if work is unsafe," she told ABC Radio on Monday, adding that at present it was not a right available in all states.

But Ms Gillard refused twice to guarantee that no worker would be worse off under the new laws.

"I am guaranteeing what is motivating me and workplace relations ministers is good occupational health and safety laws."

Employers should not be put to the expense of different OH&S laws in different places, and employees should not be at risk of worse standards in some parts of the country, Ms Gillard said.

But ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence said he believed workers in some states will be left worse off.

"We think that harmonisation of occupational health and safety should lead to better standards and certainly not a reduction," he said.