Don’t risk second hand safety

All nurses needed for new OHS campaign

Unions NSW has launched its ‘Don’t Risk Second Rate Safety’ campaign to ensure that the harmonisation of Australia’s occupational health and safety (OHS) laws does not water down workers’ protection in NSW. The NSWNA is asking its members to join the campaign to protect our high OHS standards.

Federal Labor went to the 2007 election with a policy to harmonise Australia’s OHS systems to decrease the burden of legislation on industry while promising to ‘uphold existing safety standards’. However, it appears the promise to protect worker’s safety is being compromised.

Karen Banton, widow of asbestos hero Bernie Banton, helped launch the campaign and warned that it would have been much harder for Bernie to win his historic OHS compensation from James Hardie if he had to fight under the conditions currently being recommended by the National OHS Legislation Review Panel.

Recommendations of contention include a diminished right of entry for unions, the possibility that health and safety representatives (HSRs) will need professional indemnity insurance to carry out their duties, the loss of union’s right to prosecute on behalf of workers, and the reversal of onus of proof from the employer to the employee (ie. workers will have to prove that injuries result from a breach of care on the behalf of the employer, instead of the current requirement whereby the employer must show that every measure is taken to protect workers’ safety).

NSWNA Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda said OHS is not a ‘sexy subject’ but one that affects workers’ lives in fundamental ways.

‘An injured shoulder doesn’t just mean that a worker can’t return to her job. It also means she can’t lift the shopping bags at the supermarket, or lift her children or grandchildren to play with them or give them a hug. Injuries at work affect every part of a worker’s life and we must do everything we can to protect the high standards of worker safety that our current OHS laws ensure,’ said Judith.

The OHS harmonisation process is still in its drafting stage and it is not too late to make a difference. The laws are scheduled to be drafted in June this year, made into an Act by the end of 2009, and fully enacted in 2011.

What you can do

  • Unions NSW has an electronic petition that will be open until 16 May. The petition can be found in the ‘campaigns’ area of the Unions NSW website www.nswrightsatwork.com.au/ohs/
  • NSWNA members are encouraged to write to their local Federal Member of Parliament. MPs are accountable to you and rely on your support for re-election, so letters from constituents are taken seriously. If you are unsure about who your local member is, or how to write him/her a letter, contact the NSWNA.
    Raise the issue of OHS harmonisation with local media. You might write a letter to the local paper, or call a radio station to discuss the issue. The more community awareness of the campaign, the better.