Unions Push for Industrial Manslaughter, WHS Overhaul, and Asbestos Reform

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has met for its triennial congress and has committed to push for a range of health and safety objectives, including national industrial manslaughter laws, a WHS regulatory overhaul, and the eradication of asbestos.

As the peak body for Australian unions, the ACTU is made up of 38 affiliated unions who together represent over 1.8 million Australian workers and their families.

This years Brisbane congress was their largest and most significant gathering to date, and saw over 800 delegates from varying industries come together to set the union agenda for the next three years.

The motion that was passed at the congress also included dedicated laws to tackle workplace fatigue in the transport industry, and the prevention of corporate restructuring practices to avoid OHS penalties.

A full list of the commitments made in the passed motion is listed below,

  • The introduction of corporate manslaughter laws
  • Preventing the use of corporate restructuring practices and insurance arrangements to avoid OHS penalties
  • Meaningful measures, including dedicated laws, to tackle fatigue in the road transport industry
  • Enshrining the health rights of workers in national OHS regulatory regime
  • Significantly strengthening the importation ban on asbestos so it is effectively enforced, this includes removing legal loopholes
  • Appropriate resourcing for the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency
  • Improved consumer laws to protect the community from hazardous imported goods and which allow the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission to act in real time
  • Increasing the role of workers and unions in the work of OHS regulators
  • Transforming key national OHS bodies such as Comcare, the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, National Rail Safety Regulator, Federal Safety Commissioner, and the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority into effective regulators with the active involvement of workers and their unions
  • Enhancing co-ordination and cooperation between OHS regulators and policy making bodies at a national and state and territory level
  • The mandating of crush protection devices on quad bikes
  • The establishment of a new federal body to oversee the chemical regulatory regime

Other policies that were discussed at the congress (but ultimately not passed) included giving SafeWork Australia a greater role in coordinating WHS policies across jurisdictions, requiring SafeWork Australia to maintain a register of businesses charged with WHS offences, and adjusting WHS penalties in accordance with the offending company’s size.

ACTU Assistant Secretary Michael Borowick said the rules needed to be changed to ensure every worker could rely getting home safely at the end of the day.

“One death or injury at work is one too many. We need to change the rules so that every worker in Australia, from construction to offices to the gig economy, can rely on a safe and healthy workplace.”

“Industrial manslaughter legislation will ensure that employers are held accountable when people die because they are trying to cut corners and save money. No worker should be put at risk to save their employer a few dollars.”

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