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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26322

Senator TROETH (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources) (1:03 PM) —The effect of the government amendments will be to remove the provisions in the Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Amendment (Employee Involvement and Compliance) Bill 2002 concerning changes to a Commonwealth employer's duty of care and to the privileged role of involved unions in a Commonwealth workplace. The bill, as introduced, would have recognised the primacy of direct employer and employee relationships by enabling employers and employees to develop suitable health and safety arrangements which take account of the circumstances of their enterprise. However, the provisions in the bill that would introduce a new enforcement and compliance regime, including civil pecuniary penalties, injunctions, remedial orders and enforceable undertakings as well a general increase in criminal penalties will be retained.

While it is disappointing that the provisions to remove the privileged role of unions in Commonwealth occupational health and safety will not proceed, the government believe it is very important to send a strong message that we, as a government, are concerned and are leading the way in strengthening OHS compliance, particularly in Commonwealth workplaces. It is also imperative to align OHS penalties and breaches with those that currently exist in the states and territories. In moving these amendments, the government are demonstrating their commitment to improving health and safety in their own workplaces as well as their willingness to negotiate and compromise with other parties in the Senate to this end. I thank the Australian Democrats on behalf of the government for their constructive approach to the negotiations on the amendments and to the other parties for agreeing to deal with the bill as non-controversial.

The government remain committed to further improvements in occupational health and safety in Commonwealth workplaces and to providing a greater opportunity for all employees to be actively involved in OHS matters at the workplace. It is imperative that Commonwealth employers be required to consult with all employees, not just unions, about the development and implementation of occupational health and safety arrangements. Safety in the workplace is important, and employees should have the opportunity to be involved in a manner best suited to their individual circumstances. Currently, where a union is involved, only employees nominated by the union can be candidates for election as a health and safety representative. This limits individual worker's rights. Employees should have access to the type of representation that they want in consultation with their employers on OHS matters. Best practice in occupational health and safety should enable those in the workplace to work together to make informed decisions about workplace safety, including about who they want as their occupational health and safety representative.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.