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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 7921

Ms GEORGE (12:58 PM) —I met recently with the delegation from the New South Wales branch of the Finance Sector Union to discuss the recommendations arising from the national review into model occupational health and safety laws. Among the group were three women—Anne, Narelle and Debbie—who had all been subjected to violent hold-ups while working in local branch offices. They are particularly concerned about the recommendation which could put an end to the ability of unions to commence prosecution over safety issues in the workplace.

Anne was a bank manager when she was attacked in a hold-up in 2002. She was kicked unconscious, suffering permanent back and psychological injury. The incident was reportable to WorkCover New South Wales but no action was taken against her employer, even though she had previously reported the obvious gaps in branch security measures. Narelle worked at a suburban branch which was robbed four times in nine months between August 2002 and April 2003. She and her workmates were confronted with screwdrivers and sledgehammers. The doors were smashed as the offenders took advantage of a security weakness that the branch head office had been informed about. After the fourth hold-up, the FSU commenced court action against that particular bank. The bank pleaded guilty and was fined $175,000.

Debbie’s workplace was attacked in September 2004 by three offenders, at least one of whom was armed with a handgun. The union had had 23 exchanges with the bank’s head office about weaknesses in security measures. After the attack on Debbie’s branch, the union commenced court action, again for a breach of the act. The bank pleaded guilty and was fined $145,000.

I raise these three case studies because it was cases like this that led the FSU to begin its compliance campaign against the banks to bring about better safety standards. In 2002, when the campaign began, there were 106 bank hold-ups in New South Wales. They have now fallen to about 20. Most banks, as we know, now have full-height antijump barriers, ATM bunkers and digital CCTV with live back-to-base monitoring. I ask: what would have been the outcome if the union did not have a statutory right to initiate prosecutions? I thank the FSU for bringing this matter to my attention and to Anne, Narelle and Debbie for sharing their traumatic experiences with me. I firmly believe in the right of unions to undertake prosecutions for safety breaches, and I believe this is fundamental to the wellbeing of all Australian workers.

Question agreed to.