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Labor plans to keep workers safe. Coalition silent on safety.

June 8, 2016

 

  • Halfway through the Federal Election and the Coalition have so far been silent on OHS. The Safety Institute of Australia (SIA), however, have received the workplace safety campaign policies of the Australian Labor Party. The policies target specific policy areas in, asbestos awareness, chemical safety, nanotechnology, certification of health and safety professionals and harmonisation of WHS legislation.

The full ALP policy statement, as published by the SIA.

  •  Labor supports the right of every worker to a safe home, community and workplace.  Labor stands against family violence.  Labor is committed to Domestic Violence leave as a universal workplace right with appropriate paid leave and employer support.
  • Labor will advance its workplace safety agenda through Safe Work Australia, the national body coordinating and facilitating Australia’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) strategy.  Labor is committed to ensuring the best outcomes are achieved consistently across the departments, agencies and regulators Australia-wide that have OHS responsibilities and functions.  Labor will ensure tripartite oversight of workers’ compensation and workplace safety.
  • Labor will work with employers, unions and the States and Territories, consistent with principles which have been developed by State and Territory branches of the ALP, to restore dignity and support for injured workers who have suffered as a result of the erosion of their rights and benefits.
  • Labor is committed to improving Comcare to ensure it is an effective regulator and that injured workers get fair and adequate compensation for their injuries or illness, and are rehabilitated and helped to return to work in a suitable role.  Labor will oppose any changes to Comcare to allow employers to exit other Australian Workers’ Compensation schemes, thereby undermining the viability of those schemes. Labor does not support any move to outsource or privatise Comcare.

 Asbestos awareness

  •  Labor recognises the impact of asbestos on the health of those who are exposed to it, and the legacy that it will leave.  That’s why Labor, under then Minister for Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten, established the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency to ensure a coordinated national approach to asbestos eradication.
  • Labor will protect the community from exposure to asbestos-related disease, in cooperation with the States and Territories, by improving asbestos awareness, and management and removal of asbestos from the built environment.  Labor will work towards a full world-wide ban on the mining, manufacture and use of asbestos – implemented and oversighted by tripartite international processes – to ensure ongoing protection and support for victims of asbestos-related disease and their families and to ensure people are protected from asbestos and asbestos-related diseases.

Chemical safety

  • Labor will provide the highest level of protection to the community, workers and the environment from chemicals by ensuring the efficient and timely assessment of all chemicals; by requiring safety data to be complete, up to date and comprehensive (including nano forms of bulk chemicals).  Labor will facilitate a coordinated toxic use reduction policy through the establishment of a tripartite chemicals coordinating body charged with developing and monitoring strategies across multiple agencies to decrease the toxic load on people and the environment.  Labor supports “green chemistry” industry initiatives that encourage companies to improve their products and processes to minimize the generation and use of hazardous substances.

Nanotechnology

  •  Australians are increasingly encountering nano-materials in the workplace and everyday life.  Labor understands there are legitimate concerns about the potential health, safety and environmental impacts of particular nano-materials.  We will take a whole-of-government approach to ensuring Australia’s regulatory framework is responsive to new developments in the application of nanotechnology and new evidence on nanotechnology risks.  We will continue to encourage and support research into the safety of nano-materials and the ongoing development of nanotechnology measurement standards for regulators and industry.  Labor will promote public participation in decision making on nanotechnology policy and engage with unions to effectively address potential work health and safety risks.

Labor’s Health and Safety Policy position as it relates to specific industries

  • Labor is committed to the retention of the Seacare scheme of workers’ compensation and occupational health and safety for Australian seafarers as an independent authority operating under Commonwealth legislation.  Labor is committed to improving safety in the national stevedoring industry and in particular supports the implementation of improved regulation of stevedoring safety.
  •  Labor will work cooperatively with employers, unions and States and Territories to develop a national regulatory framework for Occupational Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation in the shipping, offshore oil and gas, and stevedoring industries to eliminate regulatory uncertainty and dual jurisdictional involvement.
  • In particular, Labor will act to harmonise occupational health and safety laws covering seafarers and offshore oil and gas industry workers covered by sector specific OHS laws. Labor is committed to ensuring that International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions to which Australia is a signatory are restored in the offshore oil and gas sector.
  • Labor will improve workplace safety in high risk sectors including on farms, fishing vessels and in forests, through research, raising the profile of safety issues, codes of practice, and where these means fail, appropriate regulation.
  • Labor fought to protect owner-drivers and employees in the road transport industry by maintaining safe rates, conditions and payments systems for employees and owner-drivers; covering all parties in the transport supply chain; and by a strong and effective education and enforcement regime. The evidence shows that underpaid drivers feel more pressure to cut corners, avoid costly maintenance and safety upgrades on their trucks, and avoid necessary time delays on the roads.  That unfortunate situation is a threat to every road user.  Overworking and underpaying truck drivers leads to risks and mistakes, putting lives in danger. Unfortunately, the Turnbull Government turned its back on the evidence linking pay and safety on our roads and abolished the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.  Labor is committed to working with industry and unions to bring back a bipartisan forum to establish safe rates of pay in the heavy vehicle industry.
  • Labor recognises that firefighters’ workplace is an unpredictable, volatile and dangerous workplace and is to be recognised as a high risk occupation in health and safety legislation. 
  • Labor believes in achieving the highest level of workplace safety and that workers’ right to a safe workplace should be enshrined in legislation.  Labor recognises that firefighters face extraordinary hazards and the importance of a regulated requirements of safe crewing on the fireground which includes the principle of two-in two-out.

Certification of health and safety professionals

  • Labor commends the Safety Institute of Australia’s initiative to develop and implement the national program of certification for the occupational health and safety profession.
  • Labor recognises that the need for certification of OHS professionals has been recommended internationally and by some Australian jurisdictions.
  • Labor believes certification is an effective mechanism to set standards, develop and maintain skills, and provide high quality advice to industry.  This in turn assists in providing the highest level of protection for workers.  A national program of certification is particularly beneficial as it assists benchmark OHS professional practice across the nation where jurisdictional differences still exist.  A national program of certification is also consistent with Labor’s desire to progress the harmonisation of WHS legislation.

Harmonisation of WHS legislation

  • Labor has a strong track record in advancing WHS legislation.  Starting with the Whitlam Government which commissioned an inquiry into a federal accident compensation scheme to replace State and Territory workers compensation schemes, through to the Rudd Gillard Government which saw the introduction of Safe Work Australia and oversaw all Australian governments becoming signatories to the Intergovernmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Occupational Health and Safety and all jurisdictions committing to adopting the model work health and safety legislation.
  • Labor is committed to progressing the harmonisation of WHS legislation as we did when last in Government.  At that time, cooperation across jurisdictions was sought via National Partnership Agreements and the COAG process.  It is anticipated that a similar approach would be utilised to progress this work if Labor is returned to government.

The OHS Body of Knowledge

  • Labor supports the OHS Body of Knowledge and its maintenance and further development.  Labor recognises that the OHS Body of Knowledge is an important repository of information that underpins and facilitates other critical components of the WHS system.  As data continues to be collected, the Body of Knowledge will become an increasingly robust evidence base that can be used to inform practice and ultimately prevent workplace related fatalities, injury, disease and ill health.

Accreditation of Higher Education in OHS

  • Labor believes it is critical to have a strong, evidence-based accreditation system in place to ensure the highest possible standards in OHS professional education programs.  Labor therefore supports the accreditation program delivered by the Australian OHS Education Accreditation Board that seeks to improve higher education in OHS.

VET sector health and safety training

  • Labor shares the concerns of the SIA about the integrity of the [vocational education and training] VET sector.
  • Labor strongly supports TAFE, with a plan to protect and strengthen our TAFE system and restore integrity to Australia’s Vocational Education and Training sector.
  • A Shorten Labor Government will introduce a TAFE funding guarantee.  This will ensure that a guaranteed proportion of government funding for vocational education stays with TAFE, so that our TAFE system can continue to provide training opportunities for those who need it most.
  • A Shorten Labor Government will also undertake a comprehensive National Vocational Education and Training Sector Review to ensure our vocational education system is properly equipped to train Australians for the jobs of the future, weed out dodgy providers and enforce proper standards, and recognise the central role of our public TAFE system.
  • A Shorten Labor Government will introduce a loan cap of $8,000 a year in the VET FEE-HELP program as part of an integrity package to stop the current massive waste of taxpayers’ money, and to prevent price gouging of students and improve training outcomes.  In 2014 alone, the ten largest private training college recipients of VET FEE-HELP subsidies in Australia were paid $900 million in government subsidies – yet less than five per cent of their students graduated.
  • The Liberals have failed to stop the waste. The Turnbull Government has paid private providers $5.4 billion of taxpayers’ money without any concern about outcomes, such as how many students graduate and about the quality of the training they receive.  Other than cutting $2.75 billion from vocational education to date, their only substantive response has been to release a discussion paper.
  • This approach has serious negative consequences when graduates with sub-standard knowledge and capabilities move into roles where they are responsible for lives and well-being in the workplace.
  • Labor is the only party that will back TAFE, stop the waste and restore integrity to the vocational education sector.
  • Labor will review the handling of the WHS training curriculum within the Industry Reference Group system to ensure the development of the WHS curriculum is informed by evidence and experts.

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