What is best? Having a rep and a deputy rep or having more than one rep per designated work group?
There is no 'right' answer to this question, as there will be different conditions and matters to consider in each workplace that might influence whether it is better to have multiple reps and/or deputies.
A deputy can only carry out the functions of an elected rep if that rep is unavailable, for example on annual leave or on a rostered day off. This would probably be a reasonable arrangement for a relatively small, contained DWG. Deputy reps are entitled to attend the 5 day initial training course and annual refresher courses, and should absolutely do so to ensure that when they are called up to replace a rep, they are confident and know what their powers are.
On the other hand, if there is more than one rep per DWG, then each rep has the right to carry out functions, like raise issues with the management representative, inspect the workplace, issue PINs etc. This might be more suitable for a larger DWG, which for some reason is difficult to split into two or more separate DWGs. However, having multiple reps means that it is extremely important for them to ensure they keep each other informed and ensure that they take consistent action.
What is most important, however, is that where there is more than one person with a representative role in the DWG (whether multiple reps, or reps and deputies), they work together and always ensure they keep everyone else informed. This is also the case where there are a number of DWGs (and their reps/deputies) in a workplace. There have been cases of employers 'shopping around' for the rep they believe they can influence, and avoiding the reps they perceive as 'too militant'.
The best thing to do is to organise a meeting with the workers, ask your union to come to assist you, and canvas all the issues. Remember, the aim is to ensure that the arrangements agreed to:
'best and most conveniently enable(s) the interests of those employees relating to occupational health and safety to be represented and safeguarded: and
best takes account of the need for a health and safety representative for the DWG/s to be accessible to each member of the group.'
OHS Act s44(1)(a)(i&ii)
Last amended December 2014