Mixed results for OHS reform

NSW government has rejected the Federal Government’s proposed OHS reforms, while QLD was first to implement the laws which aimed to harmonised national workplace safety standards.

Australian Industry Group chief executive, Heather Ridout has welcomed the "first big piece in the mosaic of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) reform” and commended Queensland on the secured passage of the Work Health and Safety Bill through the state parliament.

The reforms are aimed at harmonising OHS laws across the country.

Ridout said Queensland should be congratulated for becoming the first state to implement the harmonised national workplace safety laws.

"Similar Bills are before the South Australian and NSW Parliaments, and are expected to be tabled in all other States and Territories and the Federal Parliament in the coming months,” Ridout said in a statement.

"However, in NSW, where the passage will require the support of minor parties, any amendments that move away from the Model Law risk defeating the purpose of the whole exercise and should be strongly resisted.”

Despite Ridout’s caution, NSW government yesterday rejected a key element of the Federal Government’s proposed OHS laws.

During evidence to a Senate Estimates Committee, NSW confirmed that its OHS laws would be different to the rest of Australia.

In NSW, unions retained the rights of unions to prosecute employers and be eligible to receive part of the penalty for a successful prosecution under the proposed reforms. A report in early May suggested that OH&S cases would be heard by the mainstream courts.

However, Liberal Senator for Tasmania, Eric Abetz has criticised the news saying that the right of unions to prosecute and the reverse onus of proof in NSW have hindered the state’s economy and its ability to invite investment into the state.

Abetz argued for the two provisions not replicated in other states as they present onerous conditions to for businesses to abide by.

Should the OHS reformed receive save pass through parliament, these laws will from 1 January 2012 enable Australia to operate for the first time under a uniform law for workplace safety.

Ridout said that the laws are not about a ‘states rights’ issue, but a safety issue to which each states is being asking to make a contribution.

“Removing confusing and contradictory differences between current state laws will allow workplaces to concentrate on working safely, rather than facing a complex legal nightmare,” she said in the same statement.

“Harmonisation has been driven by industry, unions and safety professionals for this reason. 

"Governments have also supported this principle and the remaining states are urged to follow Queensland’s lead and complete the legislative task.”

Queensland Industrial Relations Minister, Cameron Dick who introduced the Work Health and Safety Bill 2011 into Parliament in May said the new legislation will uphold the state’s stringent workplace safety and will result in harmonised workplace laws across Australia.

For workers, Dick said the new laws will mean more stringent protection, while for business, it will mean reduced red tape and compliance costs.

"Removing the confusion, complexity and duplication caused by Australia’s multiple workplace health and safety regimes will help save the Queensland economy more than $30 million a year,” he said.

The new Bill will replace the Queenland’s Workplace Health and Safety Act 1995 with key changes being the broadening the definition of ‘worker’ to include labour hire, contractors and subcontractors, and imposing the onus of proof on the regulator to prove an offence.

"This new Bill will help ensure cowboy operators don’t spoil it for the hundreds of high-quality dive operators who help make Queensland an internationally regarded tourism destination,” Dick said.

The new national model Work Health and Safety Bill was developed in consultation with industry, unions, all states and territories and the general public.

Work Health and Safety Bill included changes to various pieces of workplace health and safety legislation, according to Dick.  

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