Executive Summary

The terms of reference of the Panel included a requirement to consider the ‘changing nature of work and employment arrangements’. The ACTU agrees that an accurate assessment of the realities of the modern world of work is central to ensuring that the Model Laws are operating effectively and as intended. The growth in complex labour force management structures- including the use of corporate subsidiaries, franchising, labour hire, outsourcing,sham contracting and other ‘precarious’ labour engagement practices designed to avoid the traditional employment relationship-present an enormous challenge to the maintenance of minimum standards at work, including workplace health and safety (WHS) standards. The dilemma has been summarised in this way [footnotesomitted]:                                                                                                                                                                  

The very same competitive pressures that induce firms to engage contingent or precarious work arrangements also encourage underbidding on contracts, cheaper or inadequately maintained equipment, reductions in staff levels, faster production, longer work hours and other forms of corner-cutting on OHS. These work arrangements, especially when they introduce third parties and/or create multi-employer worksites lead to fractured, complex and disorganised work processes, weaker chains of responsibility and ‘buck-passing’, and inadequate specific job knowledge (including knowledge about OHS) among workers moving from job to job. As organisations outsource tasks, they diminish in size and increasingly become small or medium sized firms – with the attendant difficulties in complying with OHS requirements.

While the ACTU considers that, overall, the drafting of the Model Laws goes some way towards grappling with these matters effectively, there are a number of ways in which the Model Laws need to be strengthened to better deal with the changing world of work. These improvements are discussed below. There is no shortage of research or evidence supporting the improvements suggested by the ACTU. As noted in the Discussion Paper, there have been multiple reviews of varying aspects of Australia’s WHS regime by governments, as well as by academics and others. Many of the suggestions made by the ACTU in this submission are supported by these other reviews. Where this is the case, we have endeavored to cross-reference the other reviews.

This submission outlines the key priority areas for WHS reform common across the Australian union movement.