Unions are gravely concerned that changes to national workplace health and safety laws to be released today (Friday) will favour big business at the expense of workers’ safety.

The biggest overhaul of workplace health and safety laws in the nation’s history will move one step closer but unions are worried the changes will put workers at risk of lower safety standards.

Proposed uniform health and safety laws are expected to be released for public comment following a meeting today of all State, Territory and Federal Govt Workplace Relations Ministers.

Unions have been campaigning hard against the proposed new laws, including running hard-hitting radio advertisements that warn not to cut business red tape at the expense of workers’ safety. 
[See Downloads and Resources: http://www.rightsatwork.com.au/ohscampaign  ]

“Big businesses are clearly winning out when it comes to the lobbying over changes to national health and safety laws,” says ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence.

“All the indications are that the focus of the proposed new laws is about cutting red tape and reducing costs for business rather than improving workers’ health and safety.

 “People’s lives and wellbeing are at stake – this should not be about reducing the regulatory burden on business. Employers should be prepared to pay more if it means safer workplaces for their staff.

“Unions are particularly concerned there is a lack of safeguards in the new laws to ensure employers are prosecuted over health and safety breaches.

“Under proposals previously announced, a decision by the regulator not to prosecute an employer is only subject to a review in the most serious cases.

 “Unless, God forbid, a worker is killed or loses a limb or an eye, they will not have a right to appeal the decision by the regulator not to prosecute.

“This would rule out the victim’s right to initiate a prosecution in thousands of dangerous situations where employers fail to provide a safe workplace.

“Bullying that leads to major psychological problems as well as sprains, strains, bad backs and long term musculo-skeletal injuries would be excluded.

 “Workers in banks and service stations who are subject to the trauma of an armed robbery because their employer has failed to take adequate security measures will also miss out.

“Teachers who are subjected to a preventable assault by a student in the classroom or workers in Centrelink or other welfare agencies who have to deal with potentially violent incidents would also be adversely affected.

Mr Lawrence said the proposed national OHS laws must give workers a stronger say over matters that involve their health and safety, make employers fully responsible for providing a safe workplace, and comprehensively protect and empower elected health and safety representatives to do their job.

They must respect the role that unions play in investigating and enforcing workplace safety, and allow victims of workplace incidents to take court action against employers when regulators fail to.