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[Protecting the health and safety of Australian workers and their families]: paper presented to the ACTU Annual Occupational Health and Safety Seminar: [Melbourne]: 12 May 2006.
Paper presented to
ACTU Annual Occupational Health and Safety Seminar
Stephen Smith MP
Member for Perth
Shadow Minister for Industry,
Infrastructure and Industrial Relations
Friday 12 May 2006
Thank you for that introduction and thank you for the invitation to address you today on occupational health and safety.
The topic I’ve been asked to discuss today is “protecting the health and safety of Australian workers and their families”.
There could be no more appropriate topic for discussion today in light of the events of the past couple of weeks at Beaconsfield in Tasmania.
It has been said that occupational health and safety only ever really becomes an issue in the public mind when something goes wrong. When there is no publicity about accidents or workplace incidents, people don’t worry about it or focus on it.
The Beaconsfield events have shone a light on occupational health and safety generally and for the future under the Government’s WorkChoices changes.
And they have shone a light on the role unions have to play with occupational health and safety.
My own starting point is that unions have a role to play in the social and economic affairs of the modern Australia.
That is a fundamentally important role in workplace safety.
In that context, Labor takes the view that in occupational health and safety, no effort is ever too much.
That is why we will always support the role of trade unions helping to ensure that our workplaces are safe.
On the other hand, John Howard believes that there is no role for the trade union movement in the social and economic affairs of the modern Australia.
As I have travelled around the country during this Parliament as Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations, to make the point to those who are ambivalent about the role of unions today, I ask this very simple question: where would the victims of James Hardie have been without the trade union movement? Where would the asbestos and mesothelioma victims of James Hardie have been unless we acknowledged and accepted the longstanding tradition in this country that the trade union movement has a legitimate role to play in the social and economic affairs of our country?
I did not see John Howard, Peter Costello, Kevin Andrews or any of the employer associations riding on a white horse to the rescue of the victims of James Hardie. I saw the ACTU and the organised trade union movement pursuing justice for those victims.
We now have another example - Beaconsfield, so greatly to the credit of Bill Shorten, the AWU and the organised trade union movement.
Despite these examples of the essential role played by trade unions in the modern social and economic affairs of our country, the Howard Government’s approach to trade unions and to occupational health and safety could not be more different.
They do not believe trade unions have a role in modern Australia either.
From the outset, on coming to office in 1996, they have sought to remove the legitimate role of trade unions from the OH&S process. They refuse to accept that trade unions do have a legitimate role to play in the monitoring and enforcement of OH&S matters; that they exist as a safeguard for when things do go wrong.
Let me move to a brief snapshot of occupational health and safety in Australia.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates more than 6700 Australian workers die every year from occupational injuries and disease.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) statistics show more than 477 000 workers a year in Australia suffer some form of work related injuries or illness.
Tragically, of this, around 3000 are work related deaths each year. That’s more than the national road toll.
When we break this figure down, nearly 450 of those work-related deaths - an average of nearly 10 a week - are the result of a traumatic incident at work, including work related road deaths.
A further 150 deaths occur while employees travel to or from work, while another 200 people die each year because of someone else’s work activity.
In 1996, National Occupational Health and Safety researchers estimated conservatively that at least 2300 people died each year as a result of work-related exposure to chemicals.
We can only expect this figure to rise as a result of the expected increase in asbestos related deaths, a tragedy that for many decades has continued its macabre assault on working Australians, especially through the Wittenoom
disaster and the James Hardie disgrace.
With statistics like that it’s not hard to see why occupational health and safety is such an important workplace issue.
And it needs to be.
Let me now outline how occupational health and safety legislation and standards have been eroded under the Howard Government’s term of office.
History: 1996 - 2004
Since the Government came to office more than ten long years ago, we have seen a systematic undermining of work safety standards and conditions through their changes to Commonwealth legislation.
There have been a number of pieces of legislation through which the Government has sought to diminish or remove the ability of trade unions to be or remain involved in work safety issues at the workplace.
Each of them in some manner or form sought to diminish work safety conditions in our workplaces. While most of these were either modified in some way or rejected by the Senate, we have now seen them reintroduced in their harshest form after the 2004 election and the Government taking control of the Senate.
The Workplace Relations and Other Legislation Amendment (Small Business and Other Measures) Bill 2001 and the Workplace Relations Amendment (Choice in Award Coverage) Bill 2002 attempted to limit the ability of the Australian
Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) to make findings of a dispute, and therefore awards, in relation to small businesses. The effect of this would have been to strip away award protections, including occupational health and safety matters for small business employees.
Similarly, the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill 2003 and the Construction Industry Improvement (Consequential and Transitional) Bill 2003 and its later incarnations was a flawed piece of legislation with adverse occupational health and safety effects.
As an aside, I am opposed to creating specific jurisdictions for specific industries. In the context of occupational health and safety, in a tough and dangerous
industry like building and construction, the BCII demonstrated the malicious intent of this Government to ideologically undermine the role of the trade union movement.
While the legislation established an office of Federal Safety Commissioner, supported by Federal Safety Officers for the industry, they were obliged to exercise their powers according to Ministerial direction, and not necessarily in the interests of legitimate health and safety concerns of employees working in construction sites around the country.
The 2005 Bill, which came into effect retrospectively on 9 March last year, has shifted the onus onto employees to prove that a reasonable concern exists where action is taken based on an imminent occupational health and safety risk.
This has since been broadly replicated in the WorkChoices legislation.
This is a significant safety issue. The building and construction industry is particularly hazardous. Over the last ten years, there has been an average of 50 workplace fatalities each year.
2004 - Present
There are half a dozen or so pieces of legislation since the last election in addition to WorkChoices in which the role of trade unions has been significantly eroded or undermined by this Government. These include
â¢ National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (Repeal, Consequential, and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2005; the
â¢ Australian Workplace Safety Standards Bill 2005; the
â¢ Occupational Health & Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Amendment Bill 2005; the
â¢ Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Amendment (Promoting Safer Workplaces) Bill 2005; and the
â¢ the Occupational Health & Safety and Safety, Rehabilitation & Compensation Legislation Amendment Bill 2005.
Much contained in these Bills had previously been rejected or amended by the Senate.
Each of these occupational health and safety bills reduced, compromised or put at risk the occupational health and safety conditions of Australian workplaces.
And that is why Labor opposed each of them.
We cannot look at each of the OH&S bills introduced by the Government since the 2004 election in isolation from each other. Each combines to, in one form or another, erode the role of trade unions at the workplace level.
We only have to look to the Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) to see that. Introduced in various forms on three separate occasions since 2000, that Bill removes unions from public sector workplace
That Bill removes the need for Government agencies to negotiate OH&S agreements with unions and employees through the introduction of so called ‘Management Arrangements’, arrangements which can address consultation, training and risk management issues.
Making union involvement more difficult in legitimate workplace safety issues, it also removed all references to ‘unions’ and replaced it with ‘employee representative’ - either a registered organisation or a workplace staff association.
To make this situation worse, employee representatives under the Bill must be invited into the workplace by an employee.
Where as previously a union could make a request to Comcare to investigate a workplace, an employee must now invite an ‘employee representative’ to initiate the investigation.
As well, employee representatives involved in developing OH&S Management Arrangements must be issued with a certificate by the CEO of Comcare, valid only for 12 months; it allows employers to conduct the election of employee Health and Safety Representatives (HSR), a role previously conducted by the union or a person specified by the National Occupational Health & Safety Commission.
By itself this is a bad piece of legislation for the adverse impact it will inevitably have on workplace safety conditions across the Commonwealth public sector.
But the Government has now sought to extend the most pernicious elements of this anti-union legislation to the private sector.
The Occupational Health & Safety and Safety, Rehabilitation & Compensation Amendment Bill 2005 allows corporations licensed as self-insured under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988, to be covered under the
Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Act 1991 (OHS(CE) Act), administered by Comcare.
Taken in isolation, the Government says its amendments seek to create a uniform national OH&S regime. At one level this appears to be a sensible house-keeping measure.
But seen in the context of the anti-union measures contained in the OHS(CE) Bill it becomes clear that this Bill seeks to extend those anti-union measures to private employers with operations in multiple jurisdictions.
That means that union involvement in workplace safety issues in organisations like communications providers such as Optus and multi-state couriers like TNT are now at risk of being heavily circumscribed as a result.
There are a number of other negative implications arising from this, including â¢ The movement of large multi-state employers to the Comcare-administered national system could mean that premium revenue could be lost by the States and Territories, leaving remaining employers to face
higher premiums in the future. â¢ Reduced premium pools in States and Territories in turn will place increased pressure on the entitlements for injured employees; and â¢ Privacy considerations of individual employees: Human Resource
departments of employers who self-insure will have access to information on employees that, under State and Territory schemes, only insurance companies would have access to.
And most recently in the Budget on Tuesday night, we saw that the Government again seeking to further erode the compensation payable to Australian employees.
On Tuesday night, the Government announced that it would seek to implement changes to workers’ compensation arrangements. Again, using the fig leaf that it will lead to greater uniformity and consistency nationally, the Government proposes to remove compensation coverage for employees travelling to and from work, and for breaks “where there is a lack of employer control”.
The Government argues that journey claims involving motor vehicle accidents will still be subject to State and Territory third party insurance claims.
We will look closely at the detail of this when it comes into the Parliament.
However, given the systematic erosion by this Government of legitimate occupational health and safety measures over recent years, and the devil in the detail of every piece of OH&S legislation they have introduced, I have every reason to be concerned that this will be just more of the same.
It is with this background that we need to contemplate the practical impact that the WorkChoices legislation is likely to have.
Last week the Minister for Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews, was at pains to argue that the WorkChoices legislation did nothing to erode the occupational health and safety conditions of Australian workplaces.
His shrill protests that the Government’s changes do no such thing were as fallacious as they were absurd.
The Minister said last week that under WorkChoices occupational health and safety is provided by the individual States and Territories.
Minister Andrews even went so far as to say that the legislation contained a number of occupational health and safety provisions, including section 16(3)(c), when he said on ABC radio on 2 May
… any law relating to occupational health and safety …including entry of a representative of a trade union to premises for the purposes connected with occupational health and safety, that those State laws will continue to prevail. That’s spelt out specifically and explicitly in section 16(3)(c) of the WorkChoices legislation.
What he forgot to mention was that none of these, 16(3)(c) included, relate to the occupational health and safety training activities conducted by trade unions.
And he also neglected to mention that State occupational health and safety laws don’t deal with workplace agreements. And WorkChoices will not allow workplace agreements to provide for leave to attend OHS training provided by trade unions.
Not content with his 2 May sleight of hand, Kevin Andrews continued on 5 May when he said that
The provisions in the new workplace relations regulations do not prevent a trade union or anyone else from providing OHS training.
This shrill denial masks an unpalatable truth.
While under the Act a trade union is able to provide occupational health and safety training, Kevin Andrews deliberately glosses over the fact that under section 8.5 of the WorkChoices regulations, it is expressly prohibited for Agreements to provide for employees the ability to take leave to attend union occupational health and safety training. It is prohibited content.
Division 7.1, Subdivision B, Section 8.5 of the regulations states that a term in a workplace agreement is prohibited if it deals with employees “receiving leave to attend training (however described) provided by a trade union”.
And it’s not just me saying this.
The advice of the Senior Legal Manager at the Office of the Employment Advocate to Xstrata-owned Newlands Coal on 19 April this year said of a proposed union collective agreement
“Bona fide union business” can include leave to attend training.
As such I have concluded it falls within the terms of Regulation 8.5(1)(c)
It is also prohibited for an Agreement to include a term allowing for employees to be given leave to attend meetings during work time for matters like safety briefings and safety inductions where these are conducted by a union.
This severely restricts what safety matters can be legitimately negotiated between employers and employees.
While the Office of the Employment Advocate is already refusing to approve agreements which contain union training, either because of sloppy drafting or deliberate ideological design, the effect of this may well also be that if a safety officer is a trade union member, an Agreement is unlikely to be able to include a term saying that employees will receive safety training by that person!
Despite all of this, Kevin Andrews was at it again in the Parliament yesterday, when he deliberately misquoted Kim Beazley on the Today Show yesterday morning, as his amending the Minister’s official Hansard record of transcript
In Question Time Kevin Andrews said the following:
Today we had the Leader of the Opposition, as we've had him over the last few days, on the Today Show on Channel 9 this morning suggesting that it was, and I quote: "An absurd and indeed evil thing in the industrial relations laws that workers would be forbidden," - forbidden, his word - "from receiving safety training and indeed union trading [sic]".
The Minister then ‘tidied up’ his Hansard transcript which appears as follows:
Today we had the Leader of the Opposition—as we have had him over the last few days—on the Today show on Channel 9 suggesting that it was an absurd and, indeed, evil thing in the industrial relations laws that workers would be forbidden—his word—from receiving safety training and union training.
But a sleight of hand cannot hide what Kim Beazley actually did say on the Today show yesterday morning:
It is an absurd and, indeed, evil thing in the industrial relations laws that Howard has put down that it is to be forbidden - and fines are attached to this act of forbidding - it is to be forbidden to arrive at agreements
involving any form of safety training if they’re union-based.
It doesn’t matter how many ways Kevin Andrews tries to avoid it, under the Government’s WorkChoices legislation, it is prohibited to include in an employment agreement leave for any form of training provided by a trade union.
Kevin Andrews has said previously that these measures have been taken because in his view,
…matters that do not pertain to the employment relationship should not be part of [workplace] agreements…
And gallingly, he has described training as not being relevant to the job they are undertaking
[Training] is something which people are entitled to do in their own time. It is not part of the job they are doing…
Perversely, individual employees or employers attempting to negotiate these matters face Government fines of $6,600 for individuals, or $33,000 for organisations.
The effect then is that under the Howard Government's extreme industrial relations changes, employers and employees now face the threat of large fines
for attempting to bargain over employee leave for OH&S training that is provided by a trade union.
The WorkChoices changes also made amendments to right of entry provisions, the impact of which is adverse to the maintenance of an effective occupational health and safety regime.
Part 15, Division 1 provides the conditions under which right of entry to a workplace may be granted, with a focus predominantly on investigating breaches of industrial instruments made under Commonwealth industrial law.
There is nothing new in this in general terms.
What has changed, however, is that: â¢ the Commonwealth has purportedly covered the field with respect to right of entry for investigating employee records, but argues it has left right of entry for OH&S matters, the subject to State regulation (something I will refer to
further in a moment); â¢ right of entry provisions are now prohibited content for workplace agreements, so employers and unions cannot agree between themselves how right of entry may be exercised with respect to their particular workplace or
industry; â¢ employers have far more control over when and how a right of entry will be exercised; â¢ permits for right of entry will only be issued by the Registrar to ‘fit and proper
persons’. There are also increased powers to suspend, revoke or place conditions on permits - including the power of the AIRC to revoke or impose conditions on some or all permits for an entire union where there has been a breach of the legislation by one permit holder.
In relation to right of entry for OH&S matters at State level, it should be noted that Part 1, Section 16(3)(c) states that WorkChoices does not exclude State and Territory laws relating to
occupational health and safety (including entry of a representative of a trade union to premises for a purpose connected with occupational health and safety);
This however is complicated by Section 737, which provides a definition for OH&S law as meaning
…a law of a State or Territory prescribed by the regulations for the purposes of this definition.
The Regulations specifically refer to the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000 (NSW), the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Victoria) and certain sections of the Industrial Relations Act, OH&S Act and Mines Safety and Inspection Act of Western Australia. But not other State OH&S legislation.
On the one hand WorkChoices has introduced a right of entry regime that pertains predominantly to employer records and breaches of Commonwealth industrial law.
On the other hand, it has introduced a strange definition of what constitutes OH&S law, despite it also saying that right of entry provisions for OH&S purposes by a trade union official are a matter for the States and Territories.
In addition, it is worth noting that a union official attempting to exercise right of entry for OH&S purposes under State legislation, is still subject to the Federal legislation. Under WorkChoices a union representative seeking to enter a workplace for an OH&S matter will have to first seek a permit under the Commonwealth Workplace Relations Act, and will have to meet the requirements set by that Act. Not the relevant State or Territory legislation.
The practical impact of this arguably will be that we now have an additional layer of right of entry provisions over the top of State and Territory requirements. This is certainly not a simpler system! And certainly not the Federal Government leaving OH&S regulation to the States as the Minister has continued to argue this week.
But it’s not just through its anti-union posture that the Government’s extreme industrial relations changes undermine occupational health and safety practices in the workplace today.
One of the central pillars of the Government’s rhetoric on industrial relations has been the so-called need to build ‘flexibility’ into our industrial relations system.
I’m all for flexibility, but it must be flexibility upwards and flexibility with fairness.
Flexibility which genuinely allow employers and employees to be able to determine the most appropriate working relationships for their circumstances. But that cannot be done by eroding the occupational health and safety conditions at the workplace level.
And that, unfortunately for many Australian employees, is precisely what WorkChoices puts at risk.
Consider these simple points:
Under WorkChoices, employees can be offered an individual contract that contains no provisions for overtime and provides for irregular hours of work.
The practical impact of that is a workforce exposed to potential adverse consequences arising from flexibility downwards and entirely in the employer’s favour.
Professor Michael Quinlan from the University of NSW found in a recent review of 188 international studies that more than 150 of those studies established a link between flexible employment with poorer occupational health and safety outcomes, citing work-related stress, higher injury rates, disease and increased exposure to hazards.
And if we look to studies undertaken here in Australia, it’s clear that Australia follows this international pattern, with those at greatest risk unsurprisingly being those in precarious employment situations.
University of Melbourne’s Associate Professor Tony LaMontagne found in a survey of 11,000 workers on job stress that those most vulnerable were women, young people and employees in so-called lower status jobs. According to Associate Professor LaMontagne’s analysis, people in these categories have the highest level of job stress, but are amongst the lowest levels of worker compensation claims on account of perceived or actual job insecurity.
Looking at the structure of the workforce today does not give much reason to hope that this will change for the better.
Since 1988, around 54 per cent of all new positions created have been casual positions. In 2003, around 28 per cent of all wage earners in Australia were employed on a casual basis.
This employment structure has had a significant impact in terms of the coverage of worker compensation, training and health and safety.
According to ABS statistics, there is a marked difference in terms of workers compensation coverage for permanent employees and casual employees, with only 2.3 per cent of permanent employees not covered by workers’ compensation, compared to 21.7 per cent of casual employees.
Just as concerning are figures for occupational health and safety training. ABS figures show that more than half of all casual employees (50.5 per cent) did not
undertake any form of occupational health and safety training, compared to less than a third of all permanent employees (30.1 per cent).
We can reasonably expect that under WorkChoices, this deleterious pattern will only continue to increase.
The Government’s approach has been simply to say ‘flexibility is good’. But in so doing it has failed to understand the broader adverse social, economic and health impacts of such an approach.
Which brings me to this:
The Government’s WorkChoices changes mean that workplace agreements need no longer be based on awards or a comprehensive no disadvantage test, but instead now only have to satisfy the five minimum conditions of the so-called Fair Pay and Conditions Standard, the legislated four minimums of annual leave, personal leave, unpaid parental leave and maximum working hours, plus the minimum wage.
That Standard now applies across all industries, irrespective of the nature of the job. As a consequence, once a workplace agreement is entered into under the Government’s new system, protections, such as limits on when an employee can be required to work, overtime pay, or weekend or night time work rates traditionally found in Awards, will eventually disappear.
When this is combined with the fact that an employee working in a business of 100 employees or less can be sacked for no reason or any reason, and the Government’s open advocacy of individual agreements, concluded in secret and confidentially, it doesn’t take much to see that the likely result over time will be a further erosion of occupational health and safety conditions at the workplace level.
The Robens Committee noted more than 33 years ago that
…the promotion of safety and health at work is first and foremost a matter of efficient management. But it is not a management prerogative. In this context more than most, real progress is impossible without the full cooperation and commitment of all employees…
The Government’s whole industrial relations approach undermines this precisely because it undoes the principle of cooperation in the workplace. Instead, it fosters an environment that is more uncertain for employees - both in terms of job security and in terms of pay and conditions.
To compound this further, under WorkChoices, the onus has now shifted from the employer to the employee to prove that there is a risk to his or her health in the workplace.
Part 9, Division 1, section 420 (4) places the burden of proof on the employee asserting that their action, such as taking industrial action, was because of a reasonable concern about an imminent risk to his or her health or safety. And in a further slap to the legitimate concerns of employees about their workplace safety, they can be hit with a $6600 fine if they are unable to prove what that work safety concern was!
The combined effects of:
â¢ having an unfair dismissal regime that means if you work for a business employing 100 employees or fewer you can be sacked and sacked unfairly and for no reason or any reason; â¢ having a system that favours individual contracts concluded privately
without the ability for others to assess their contents; â¢ having a system that puts the burden of proof onto an employee to prove they have cause for taking industrial action, rather than the employer
proving why it is not necessary; and â¢ having a minimum set of conditions that apply to all industries, no matter the level of occupational danger,
means that occupational health and safety standards will be compromised over time.
And that means employees will be placed into a situation where they have to negotiate for sensible OH&S workplace conditions, not have them as a precondition to their employment relationship.
Harmonisation of OHS Legislation
I’d like briefly to turn to the issue of harmonising the different State and Commonwealth occupational health and safety regimes.
The Commonwealth Constitution does not give the Commonwealth a general power to legislate for occupational health and safety, and currently, there is separate OH&S legislation in every State and Territory in Australia, as well as two statutes at the Commonwealth level. There is also industry specific safety legislation in certain States, for example covering the coal mining industry in Queensland.
In its 2004 review of OH&S frameworks, the Productivity Commission, presented compelling arguments in support of the harmonisation of Australia’s OH&S laws.
Currently, OH&S legislation in the various States and Territories is broadly consistent in that it is based on the Robens’ model, of outcomes based legislation, rather than prescriptive OH&S regulation, and quite rightly seeks as the primary outcome the achievement of health and safety in the workplace.
What are often seen as subtle differences between OH&S statutes have the potential to generate confusion, interpretive inconsistency and therefore additional cost and uncertainty for businesses operating across States. This is at a time when we need to provide OH&S training to the increasingly mobile workforce across our nation, as well as equal protections for all Australian employees.
These issues, in particular the primary issue of employee protection was identified by Chris Maxwell QC in his review of Victorian OH&S legislation. He said:
My own view is that the case for uniform OHS legislation is overwhelming. The current system, where the provisions are different in each State and Territory, has a number of indefensible consequences, in particular that the level of OHS protection for a person at work varies according to the State or Territory in which he/she works …
The most obvious examples of State to State inconsistency include:
â¢ Inconsistent definitions for key terms like ‘workplace’, ‘employee’, or an employer’s ‘business or undertaking’; â¢ the difference in penalties for breaching OH&S law, from a maximum fine of $125,000 in the Northern Territory, to $825,000 for repeat offences in
â¢ differences in worker participation in workplace health and safety consultation and safety committees; and â¢ issues developed in particular States, such as industrial manslaughter.
However I believe both Australian employers and employees would benefit from consistency in OH&S regulation and national best OH&S practice as the uniform standard across Australia, with a shift in focus from ensuring compliance with the
various State legislation, to achieving a culture of workplace safety.
This would not be a veiled grab for power by a future Federal Labor Government, as we have seen the current Government do through its WorkChoices and Building and Construction Improvement legislation.
Rather, I believe the different experiences of the States and Territories should inform a national approach to OH&S. After all, the States’ legislation is all designed for the same purpose: national consistency may therefore be achieved through mutually agreed joint Commonwealth State and Territory legislation.
Lessons from Beaconsfield
Finally, I’d like to draw attention to the most recent public illustration of the very tangible way that trade unions have assisted in the safety conditions of Australian workplaces over recent times.
The situation at Beaconsfield mine stands as the most recent public example of just how important union-based occupational health and safety training is essential to workplaces today.
Kim Beazley said that the trade union movement is fundamentally important to mine safety in Australia.
It was, afterall, union-based occupational health and safety training that contributed to saving the lives of miners Todd Russell and Brant Webb. The training Todd Russell received at the Mine Rescue facility in Lithgow, NSW was from an operation jointly owned by the CFMEU’s Mining and Energy Division and the NSW Minerals Council.
And it was the Lang Labor Government that established the first mine rescue stations in NSW 80 years ago in 1926. It has been without a doubt the eight decades of training and skill developed jointly between industry and trade unions came to Todd Russell’s and Brant Webb’s rescue this week.
In fact, so relevant is that training that Todd Russell was in Lithgow in March this year for specialist training in vertical rope rescue.
Trade unions do, and should, have a central role to play in workplace safety in this country.
It has been through the tireless work of the trade union movement that today we are able to enjoy safer workplaces than would otherwise be the case.
John Howard, Peter Costello and Kevin Andrews don’t get this. There is a simple reason for this. After more than ten years, they are out of touch with the
expectations of a modern and dynamic workforce. Instead, they govern only for themselves. And that has fed their prejudices.
Labor knows how valuable the modern trade union movement is to the OH&S needs of Australian workplaces.
That is why I am committed to ensuring that trade unions are centrally involved in the occupational health and safety conditions and requirements of our workplaces.
When Labor returns to Government I will ensure that the trade union movement is fully involved in this area of fundamental importance.