The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is shaming the West Australian government for failing to sign off on the national harmonisation of OHS laws, claiming the state is putting ‘politics before the state’s workers’.
Harmonised OHS laws are set to come into effect from the start of next year; the regime has been questioned by various state governments concerned that the harmonised laws will bring down the level of safety for their workers.
WA has been critical of OHS harmonisation for two years now, claiming it agrees with the proposal in principle, but is concerned it would require the state to adopt inferior standards to its existing OHS regime.
“We will continue our dialogue with the council but at this stage we are not committing to a system that we are not convinced is in the best interests of Western Australian workers and businesses,” said Commerce Minister Troy Buswell back in May 2009.
“A key concern is that the national harmonisation process could result in the high standards of WA’s occupational health and safety laws being significantly diminished.
“We remain committed to the process and will consider the new model OHS laws in the spirit of co-operation, but we feel it has a long way to go before it outweighs the current tripartite process that operates very well for all stakeholders here in WA.”
ACTU assistant secretary Michael Borowick slammed WA yesterday for still not complying with the harmonisaed laws, claiming two years is more than enough time for the government to work towards agreement on the new regime.
Borowick claims the WA government is employing ‘stalling tactics to avoid its responsibilities’ in the national move towards OHS harmonisation.
“Premier Colin Barnett must explain to the workers of WA why he believes they should not have the same protections at work as the rest of Australia,” Borowick said.
“Claiming they have not had enough time to analyse the impacts of the laws is simply ridiculous when they have had more than two years to do so.”
Borowick says harmonising Australia’s different state and territory laws is in the interest of improving workers’ safety across the country.
However, WA becomes the third state to act out against the laws (or at least their start date of 1 January 2012), claiming there hasn’t been enough time to sort out the details of the harmonised laws to the point where all states and territories are in agreement.
Foremost on the agenda is ascertaining whether the federal government is attempting to achieve harmonisation for harmonisation’s sake, or the more honourable outcome of achieving a framework to ensure workers and employers are kept safer under the harmonised laws than they are under disparate laws, Australia-wide.
For Borowick, harmonising OHS laws across the country will give workers, in particular, more safety cover than the current laws each state offers.
“Hardly a week passes without workers in WA’s resources sector being injured, which only reinforces why the state must be a part of nationally harmonised OHS laws,” he said.
“If workers in this state are not given the same protections as the rest of Australia, then lives will undoubtedly be at risk.
“The upper estimates of Safe Work Australia are that 7000 Australian workers die each year as a result of workplace injury or illness. That’s five times the annual national road toll. It’s 20 people a day.
“All governments have a responsibility to make workplaces safe for workers. But by refusing to sign up to the harmonised laws, Mr Barnett is ignoring his responsibilities and ignoring workers’ safety.”
One of the major changes businesses across the country will experience with the new harmonised OHS laws is the inclusion of employees having legislative requirements to work safely.
ACTU’s Borowick said it was ‘appalling’ that the WA Government ‘did not want families or unions to be able to initiate prosecutions against companies and wanted to stop unions from immediately entering worksites where there had been a breach of safety laws’.
“This is another reminder of why it falls on us in unions to be vigilant about safe workplaces. Because we can’t rely on governments, and if the WA Government refuses to act, there will be no onus on employers to make workplaces safe,” he said.