WorkCover NSW offers training in laws Premier rejected

Sean Nicholls
February 11, 2011

THE state government agency WorkCover is preparing to offer training to unions and employers about the federal government's planned national workplace laws, despite a declaration by the Premier, Kristina Keneally, that they will not be implemented in NSW in their present form.

In October Ms Keneally picked a public fight with the Prime Minister over the issue by writing to inform her that NSW would back out of a deal to sign up to uniform national workplace laws.

The decision infuriated Julia Gillard, but the Premier refused to budge unless the national laws contained two provisions in the NSW system: a union's right to initiate a prosecution, and the onus of proof being on the employer.

The dispute was widely seen as an attempt by Ms Keneally to shore up union support before next month's state election and score some political points in a fight with Canberra.

Ms Keneally insisted the decision was about standing up for the rights of workers.

''These are important matters of principle for my government,'' she said at the time.

But as she was announcing her stand, the government's workplace watchdog, WorkCover, was considering tenders to provide the training courses.

The tender documents, released in September, call for expressions of interest ''to develop a training resource that will raise awareness of the obligations and rights of trade unions and their members across NSW under the model Work Health and Safety Act''.

The aim was to ''support NSW trade unions to help their members understand and be able to comply with the model Work Health and Safety Act through the development of a training resource that they may tailor to suit their specific industry''.

A separate tender was let for a training resource for NSW employers and their employees. The tenders closed on October 8, about a week before Ms Keneally wrote to Ms Gillard.

The Finance Minister, Michael Daley, who has responsibility for WorkCover, said training did not alter the government's position on the proposed laws. He argued they did not preclude ''jurisdictional carve-outs''.

The training modules were broad and would provide employers and employees with the information they needed should a national agreement be reached, he said.

Mr Daley noted the Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, has promised to sign the laws if he is elected next month.

''Unlike the opposition, we are not willing to water down protections that NSW workers have enjoyed for decades, and rush to sign up to national laws for the sake of it,'' he said.

However, Mr O'Farrell said Ms Keneally had ''wrecked a national deal which would have made it easier to do business in order to gain a cheap headline and shore up union support''.

A WorkCover spokesman said the content of the training courses would not be approved until ''mid-2011''.