Reducing death, injury and illness at work is a top priority for working people and unions.
When you're confronted with a health or safety issue at work, you don't have to deal with it alone. Workers need to have their say when it comes to workplace safety because it is an issue that affects them directly.
All workers have a right to elect their workmates to be their representatives about health and safety issues. Health and safety reps are important watchdogs in the workplace to make sure employers comply with the law. These reps have rights to proper resources and training.
Unions can provide a wealth of expertise, resources, know-how and training to help health and safety reps perform their role. And if there are any problems or issues, workers and their reps should always know the union is there to back them up.
Speak Up is a new national campaign to empower workers to be well informed of their rights and to have the confidence to voice issues about health and safety.
Rights and protections for workers
Many protections and rights we take for granted were fought for and won by unions. These include workers’ compensation; rest breaks; protective clothing; restrictions on lifting heavy objects; licences and training when working with heavy equipment; as well as bans on asbestos and dangerous chemicals.
Workers should have rights to:
- A safe and healthy working environment
- Know what health and safety hazards they are exposed to at work and a right to be involved in and negotiate how hazards are dealt with
- Determine who represents them on health and safety issues and
- Refuse unsafe work
Harmonisation of OHS laws
From 1 January 2012, new OHS legislation will come into effect standardising all current state and territory level regulations. OHS regulation in Australia has always been controlled by the state and territory governments meaning the laws differs within each jurisdiction.
Harmonisation was an attempt to standardise all OHS rules and legislation across the country. This will help employers understand their legal obligations better and ensure worker’s rights are protected.
OHS Harmonisation means national uniformity of OHS legislative framework (comprised of model OHS Act, supported by model OHS legislations and model codes of practice) complemented by nationally consistent approach to compliance and enforcement policy.
At the start of 2012, Queensland, New South Wales, the ACT and the Commonwealth began operating under the harmonised OHS system. Legislation is still before the Parliaments of Tasmania and South Australia. However, the Liberal governments of Victoria and Western Australia have to date resisted the move towards uniform laws.
Unions on behalf of their members will continue to seek further improvements to workers' rights under harmonisation.