ACTU Executive Resolution on OHS - March 09

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Occupational Health, Safety and Workers’ Compensation Resolution (Amended)

a) Harmonisation of OH&S Laws

i) Executive asserts that Occupational Health and Safety is a key priority for workers and core business for unions. The ACTU has previously welcomed moves for the enactment of a harmonised system of OHS laws, regulations and standards throughout Australia. The ACTU believes that the reports of the National Review into Model Occupational Health and Safety Laws have manifestly failed to recommend the highest standards and rights for workers in relation to OHS, despite our calls for it to do so. Working Australians have a once in a generation opportunity to improve OHS standards and rights; or to stand by and see them fall below the current levels to those recommended by the panel.
Executive notes that:

  • The WRMC Communiqué of the 29 September 2006 included the principle of “ensuring protections are not reduced”; and
  • The Principles for the Review included at 14 (d) “the observance of the directive of COAG that in developing harmonized OHS legislation there be no reduction or compromise in standards for legitimate safety concerns.”

The first and second reports of the Review Panel to the WRMC have failed to adhere to these principles; instead their recommendations, if adopted, would undermine existing standards and rights. They would be a backwards step.

Key issues for workers and their families include:

  • The highest standard of employer/ business/ undertaking duty of care towards their workers.
  • Improving OHS standards by giving unions the right to prosecute where regulators fail to do so, in all jurisdictions.
  • Employers having the burden of proof in OHS prosecutions to establish they did all they could to make work healthy and safe.
  • The right to effective workplace representation by maintaining and extending the following:
  1. Health & Safety Representative (HSR) powers
  2. Workplace Health and Safety Committee (HSC) provisions
  3. Anti-discrimination provisions
  4. Employees’ right to report issues anonymously
  5. Full right of entry, inspection and information gathering powers.

The ACTU Executive commits to achieving the highest standards of OHS laws and regulations as a central priority and to undertake an urgent major campaign to demand those standards. We commit to lobbying allied interest groups and OHS regulators about our concerns and to lobby federal and state ALP and crossbench MPs to achieve the highest standards of OHS laws and regulations. We will involve HSRs, workplace delegates, HSC members and rank and file activists in these activities.

All unions commit to organising members to join the campaign in their workplaces to demand the highest standards. The immediate campaign focus will be on Workers Memorial Day; 28 April 2009.

ii) That Executive notes that the ACTU OHS & Workers’ Compensation Conference discussed the National OHS Review Panel reports.

The Review Panels qualified support of industry specific legislation, and if then only by regulation, combined with a continual process of justification to retain any industry specific laws, will in our view lower the existing OHS standards in these industries.

Executive resolves that this stance is unacceptable and calls on the Federal and State Governments to reject these recommendations and have industry specific legislation incorporated and retained in specific Acts.

Executive further resolves to allow active processes such as the National Mine Safety Framework to continue and to be the vehicle for review of industry specific laws, and it not be left to COAG to conduct periodic reviews of industry specific laws.

iii) That the ACTU is to reconvene the Industrial Relations leadership group with the view to early discussion with Minister Gillard prior to the workplace relation Minister Council Meeting on April 3rd, 2009.

That the ACTU is to coordinate the direct lobbying, by affiliated unions and their delegates, of Federal MPs urging them to support the proposed amendments and priority list of concerns identified by the ACTU OHS Conference to the National Review of Model Occupational Health and Safety laws, as the Review’s recommendations do not meet the terms of reference set by the Government.

The ACTU urges all state Trades and Labour Councils to convene meetings of union health and safety representatives and delegates prior to April 3rd, 2009. The meetings/seminars aim is to brief HSR/delegates in preparation for a public campaign calling for maintenance and improvement of health and safety standards and rights.

b) Nanotechnology

That, having regard to the 2008 December ACTU Executive decision regarding nanotechnology, Executive notes the outcomes of the ACTU Nanotechnology Seminar held on the 4th February that identified the need to run education and awareness raising activities within unions and more broadly across Australian workplaces. To this end, Executive approves the conduct of such activities.

c) Zero Occupational Cancer

That, in light of the urgent need to mount a campaign around model OHS laws, Executive resolves that the Zero Occupational Cancer Campaign launch scheduled for 28 April 2009 be postponed until a more suitable date.

d) Workers’ Compensation

That Executive notes the report on the recent prosecution of Post Logistics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Australia Post, for contravention of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1991 in relation to the death of a contractor. We also note that this is the third time since 2002 that Post Logistics has been convicted for breaching OHS legislation at this site and the second time that a failure to comply with the laws has resulted in the death of a worker.

It is apparent that this employer is not a superior performer in injury prevention and in the maintenance of high OHS standards. We call on the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission (SRCC) to exercise the full powers it has at its discretion and revoke the Australia Post self-insurance license.

We ask the Commissioners nominated by the ACTU to seek that this issue is considered at the next SRCC meeting. Further it is resolved that ACTU raise the matter of sub-standard OHS performance of Comcare self-insurers directly with the Rudd Government at the earliest practicable opportunity.