Union News

Victorian HSRs and deputies: October 29 HSR Conference

There are now over 1500 HSRs (and deputies) who have registered to come to our 2019 conference! 

The Conference for Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) is the biggest Health and Safety Month event in Australia and has approval under s69 of the Victorian OHS Act meaning employers must allow elected HSRs to attend on paid leave. So if you haven't done so already, register now! The conference is being held on Tuesday October 29, with the theme of "Emerging Issues - Safe and Inclusive Workplaces".

This year we will be running the conference in more non-metropolitan Melbourne locations, so it will be easier for HSRs in country Victoria to attend:

  1. Melbourne: Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre
  2. Bendigo: Trades Hall Council, Bendigo
  3. Gippsland: Federation University, Gippsland Campus, Churchill
  4. Portland: South West TAFE campus, Portland
  5. Wodonga: Wodonga TAFE Space, Lawrence Street Campus

The conference is free and is sponsored by WorkSafe - but registration is essential. Elected HSRs are entitled to attend the conference on paid leave as per s69 of the Act, but they must give their employer at least 14 days' notice - the deadline was yesterday. However, many employers will still allow HSRs to attend on paid leave and we also welcome Deputy HSRs - and many employers are happy to grant them paid leave to do so. So ask!

Go to the Registration website page now to register - it's super easy. Once you've registered you'll be able to download a letter for your employer and proof of the s69 approval from WorkSafe Victoria.

FREE posters for the conference are available now - we have lots of these available and if you'd like some, contact OHSCampaigns@vthc.org.au. You can check out the poster here.  Feel free to copy it and post it on your noticeboard if you can't get hard copies.

Ask Renata

Hi Renata

Is the Five day Initial HSR course actually a Certificate IV course?

No, the five day initial training course for HSRs is a course which has been approved as a s67 training course by WorkSafe Victoria. Its aim is to ensure that HSRs (and deputies) understand the law and their rights and powers under the OHS Act, as well as the duties of employers and others. The course also covers processes to resolve OHS issues in the workplace, negotiation and inspection skills and much more. 

However, there is no ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ nor a determination of competency, as the position of HSR is a voluntary one, unpaid and the only people an HSR must answer to are the members of the DWG.  There is no ‘qualification’ required and ‘normal’ workers are encourages to take up this role and represent their fellow DWG members.

Consequently, it is not a Cert IV course – for all the above reasons. Sometimes though there may be some ‘prior recognition’ granted by the Cert IV training provider for someone who has completed the 5 day initial training course. Remember: The employer must pay the course costs, pay the HSR as if s/he is working and also cover any reasonable additional costs the HSR may have to attend the course. Read more: OHS Reps right to training

If you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.

Anniversary of the collapse of West Gate Bridge

This Tuesday marked the 49th anniversary of the most deadly industrial incident in Australia: the collapse of the West Gate Bridge on October 15, 1970. There was a commemoration service held at the memorial below the bridge to remember the 36 people who were killed, and the 18 others who 'rode the bridge down' and survived but were seriously injured. Workers, union organisers and families of both the deceased and those who survived attended the service.

Survivor Tommy Watson was 23 years old and here he talks of the day he lost so many of his fellow workers. He tells how the bridge collapsed on the Thursday, those who survived worked Friday, and Saturday: 'they let us go home early Saturday afternoon, we come in Sunday morning for a couple of hours' and part of what they had to do was lift huge parts of the bridge to get to two dead workers who were still trapped beneath. Then 'we had Monday off with pay, and then when we went in Tuesday morning, the gates were locked - we couldn't get on the job. So they herded us to this car park... and this engineer stood up and told us what a great job we'd done .. how much they thought of us.. then we all got the f**'ing arse. Every one of us got sacked on the spot. We got one week's pay and we got our wages and that was it.'  While some eventually got their jobs back, no-one got counselling, or compensation and overall families and those who experienced this traumatic event were treated very badly by the company.  Read more: 2103 feature on the West Gate Bridge

Industrial manslaughter: Update

Yesterday the VTHC organised meetings with the Victorian cross benchers and Labour members to ensure that the government's Industrial Manslaughter Bill, expected to be put to parliament in the next few weeks, gets the support it deserves and is not weakened. Families who have lost someone to a workplace incident, union organisers who have been called in to sites where such incidents have occurred had multiple meetings with our elected representatives. Members of the VTHC's OHS and Research units were on hand to help. As Luke Hilakari, Secretary of the VTHC said, "This campaign has been decades long, and this generation of families who have been thru the worst type of trauma, with workers and unionists will get this done. This change doesn’t happen without the power of the Andrews Govt prioritising this important change in law. Particularly the leadership Jill Hennessy and Natalie Hutchins has been outstanding. This bill will save lives. It will reduce workplace injuries. And with everyone’s efforts we will overcome the objections of the bosses, and this will be made a law." Check out the Facebook post and photos here.

ACTU: Anti union bill will stymie workplace safety

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACtu) has warned that the Federal Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019, currently before the Senate, will put in danger unions' powers to tackle major health and safety issues, like it did with asbestos and other life-threatening hazards in the past. Under the Bill, union officials who visit a workplace without 24 hours' notice would risk being disqualified from office or having their entire union shut down. This would severely limit unions' powers to inspect workplaces to keep workers and their members safe, and "must be opposed".

Asbestos disease sufferers agreed and have said that campaigns such as the one which eventually succeeded in having asbestos banned would be made illegal under the this Bill. They joined ACTU president Michelle O’Neil and occupational lung disease specialist Dr Chris Clarke to call on Senate crossbenchers to block its passage, saying it would leave workers vulnerable to employers like James Hardie. This company was a major asbestos manufacturer in Australia and ignored the health risks of handling asbestos for years, before stopping production and paying out many workers compensation after union lobbying.

“The Ensuring Integrity Bill – whoever dreamt that up needs a gold Logie. It’s more like ensuring inequity,” said Jim Iverson, recently diagnosed with asbestosis. Dr Clarke said the union movement was valuable in terms of ensuring workplace health and safety. Unsurprisingly, Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said claims by the ACTU and sufferers were “an incorrect contention”. Sources: ACTU Media release; OHSAlert; The Northern Territory News; Watch Michelle O'Neil and Dr Chris Clarke address the media in Canberra, The Adelaide Advertiser.

Silica: Update

A very informative article provides an overview of where things are 'at' in Australia with silica:

  • Queensland: it seems that silicosis rates are so high that this state now has a shortage of stonemasons. Too many are disabled or have died due to the disease. It seems that some workers have left the industry, hoping it’s not too late to save their lungs and lives. Despite there being a ban in place in Queensland in relation to dry cutting of engineered stone, and despite national workplace health and safety (WHS) guidelines around reducing the risks of silica dust exposure, an audit of stonemason workshops by Worksafe Queensland found multiple instances where workplace hazards were not being effectively managed.
  • NSW: the author calls this a 'black spot', because there is "no effective oversight, regulation or enforcement of safety requirements for those working with engineered stone products". The article quotes Dr Graham Edwards, a member of the national taskforce on silicosis and other dust diseases and an occupational physician, who said that lack of information about the statistics for NSW means the problem could be much worse than current data shows. “We still don’t have any real visibility about what is happening in NSW. We know that there is end-stage disease in NSW but we just don’t know the quantity of cases.”
  • Victoria, on the other hand, is 'facing facts': the government has implemented regulations banning dry cutting of manufactured stone. WorkSafe Victoria received 55 claims for silica-related conditions in the 2018-19 financial year and 15 workers have died from the disease since 1985. The state's 1400 stonemasons have been offered free health screening: last month 232 stonemasons had commenced the screening, with 73 out of 98 who had completed it referred for further tests. Twenty workers tested positive for silicosis out of the 98 – which represents around one in five workers who have been screened being handed a medical death sentence.

There is no 'safe level' of exposure - Victoria is campaigning nationally to reduce the Australian silica workplace exposure standard to 0.02 mg/m3 over an eight-hour day. This is even lower than the VTHC proposed standard of 0.025 mg/m3. Safe Work Australia is reviewing its exposure level recommendation of 0.1 mg/m3 (eight hour time weighted average).  Read more: More must be done to keep us safe at work. The Fifth Estate; Silica information page; Silicosis: Life without breath Medical Forum

Asbestos news

ASEA Conference: Perth 11 - 13 November
The 2019 Asbestos Safety Conference, at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre, is coming up soon.  All members of the asbestos management system have the opportunity to come together, exchange information and share ideas with over 300 domestic and international professionals from a range of sectors including workers’ health and safety, public health, the role of the non-government sector, and international campaign work. There will also be sessions focused on the work of asbestos support groups, the latest research into asbestos awareness communications and the latest from medical researchers. Check out the conference program here. For more information and to register, click here

More information on Asbestos: In the workplace and In the Home.

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