Union News

Two more Victorian fatalities

On the day new industrial manslaughter laws were introduced into parliament, and just up the road from the dreadful trench collapse that killed Charlie Howkins and Jack Brownlee, a man in his 50s man was killed yesterday morning after becoming trapped in machinery at a factory in Delacombe. WorkSafe is investigating the incident.

News has also come in that former leading country trainer Brian Cox was killed after a concrete truck he was driving rolled in north-east Victoria on Monday. Wodonga-based Cox was serving a disqualification from training and had turned to truck driving during his ban ahead of being eligible to reapply for his trainers' licence in May next year. According to some reports, both the police and WorkSafe were investigating the incident at Talgarno.

Our thoughts are with the family, workmates and friends of both men, as well as with first responders who attended, these terrible incidents. Every worker deserves to come home safely at the end of the day.

These two fatalities bring the total fatalities in Victoria to 27. It is worth noting once again that WorkSafe does not include workplace deaths that occur as a result of road crashes in its workplace fatality tally. This is one of the reasons why the real number of people killed as a result of their work is much larger than the recorded figures would indicate.

In an update, WorkSafe has confirmed it is investigating the death of a three-year-old boy who was thrown from a side-by-side vehicle at a farm in the state's north-east on 6 October. The child's father, who was contracted at the property, was allegedly driving the vehicle when the incident occurred at Deddick.

Minister announces new laws

For the first time in several years, the minister responsible for workplace safety did not attend the VTHC's annual conference for HSRs. But this is because the Attorney-General and Minister for Workplace Safety, Ms Jill Hennessy could not be in two places at once: while the HSRs watched a video of the Minister, she was in the Parliament introducing the laws. Under the proposed new laws, which deliver on an Andrews Labor election promise, employers who negligently cause a workplace death will face fines of up to $16.5 million (much higher than Australia's current highest maximum work health and safety fine of $10 million for industrial manslaughter in Queensland) and individuals will face up to 20 years in jail.

The proposed laws will cover deaths due to fatal incidents and illnesses caused by unsafe or unhealthy workplaces, as well as deaths caused by mental injuries, including trauma from bullying or other forms of abuse.

The offence will fall under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and will apply to employers, self-employed people and ‘officers’ of the employers. The legislation will also apply when an employer’s negligent conduct causes the death of a member of the public – ensuring that all Victorians are safe in, and around, our workplaces. WorkSafe Victoria will investigate the new offence using its powers under the OHS Act to ensure employers can be prosecuted.

The Minister made the announcement alongside Dave and Janine Brownlee whose son Jack died after a 3.2 metre trench collapsed on him while he was at work in Ballarat. “All workers deserve a safe workplace and the proposed laws send a clear message to employers that putting people’s lives at risk in the workplace will not be tolerated,” said Ms Hennessy. “I cannot begin to imagine the pain felt by the families who have lost a loved one at work.”

Not unexpectedly, the tabling of the legislation drew immediate criticism from industry groups including the Victorian Chamber of Commerce, Master Builders Association and the Victorian Farmers Federation, who claim the laws will have a discriminatory effect on smaller businesses. However, standing outside Victoria's Parliament House, Ms Hennessy said the burden of proof for employers to be charged under the new laws would be high, because the the penalty is high. The criticism was expected and it was for this reason that bereaved family members and union officials who have had to deal with the deaths of their members have been meeting with both cross-benchers and members of the Labor government to ensure support for the legislation.
Read more: Victorian Government media release; Bosses face manslaughter charges for suicides under new workplace laws, The Age

HRS Conference a huge success

Many hundreds of HSRs both in Melbourne and regional Victoria had a fruitful and informative day at the annual HSR Conference yesterday. The HSRs cheered when the Minister, via a lengthy video recorded especially for the conference, announce that she was introducing the new Industrial Manslaughter laws in Parliament at that very moment, and acknowledged the role that they, their unions and the VTHC had had in the lead up to  this moment.

Luke Hilakari, VTHC Secretary, reminded everyone of the long campaign that has been waged in this state to achieve these laws: a campaign of over 20 years. The death of 18 year old Anthony Carrick on November 12, 1998, his first day at work, was the catalyst for a campaign to have laws against 'corporate killing'. Anthony and another 18 year old were dropped off at Drybulk in Footscray by a labour hire company and told to sweep the floor in front of several 5.5 tonne cement slabs. The unrestrained slabs had been known to shift and wobble due to vibration from nearby traffic. One fell, killing Anthony and seriously injuring the other young man. The company was fined $50,000 but it went into liquidation and the fine was never paid. Soon after, the company owning Drybulk re-opened and operated from the same premises. At that time the then Labor Government introduced laws, but these did not make it through the Upper House.

So the battle has been long, and too many Victorians have been killed - with their employers getting off with a fine. This will now change.

The HSRs also heard from Ms Clare Amies, the outgoing Chief Executive of WorkSafe Victoria, and Daniel Gili, the 2018 HSR of the Year. They had an opportunity to ask questions of the panel and give their views on a number of issues.

The Keynote Speaker was Professor Lisa Heap who, after the HSRs were shown a video on gendered violence in the workplace, explained how this serious issue was an OHS one, and how it could be tackled in workplaces, as any other workplace hazard must be.

Sexual harassment in retail, food and warehousing industries

Coincidentally, yesterday the Human Rights Commission (HRC) launched a report on the results of a survey into the prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment of retail, fast food and warehousing workers. The results have revealed that female workers and younger workers, often in their first jobs, are particularly at risk of workplace sexual harassment.

The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA), the union for retail, fast food and warehousing workers, approached the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) to conduct a comprehensive survey of its members. The survey was conducted in early 2019.  The report was launched by Commissioner Jenkins and SDA National Assistant Secretary Julia Fox in Melbourne.
Read more: HRC media release and full report; The Age

November 28: Feminism in the Pub

As part of the 16 days of Activism against gender based violence, Feminism in the Pub is celebrating women fighting for everyone to be physically and mentally safe at work. The VTHC Women's and Equity Team and activists invite you to attend the next event which will be on November 28. The topic: Eliminating Gendered Violence at Work will be of great interest to HSRs. There will be a panel and discussion on safe and inclusive workplaces, gendered violence as a workplace hazard and collective action. The event will be co-facilitated by Renata from the OHS Team.

When: 6.30pm, Thursday November 28
Where: Clyde Hotel, 365 Cardigan St, Carlton
Cost: Free - drinks and food at your own expense - but please RSVP at Union Women

Ask Renata

Hi Renata,

Are there any regulations in Victoria regarding vehicle steps on trucks? I know there are for buildings, but no one seems to know if any exist for truck steps. Not cabin entry steps, but steps to access the rear of a truck body, the ones on our new truck are like building steps, but they are very far apart and the first step is quite high off the ground.

I’m not aware of any – unless they come with the truck and then it might be something that is covered by the design of the vehicle.

However, in saying that, if there’s an issue with these steps, and this (eg height of lowest step is high and not consistent with the sort of riser building steps must have) then it’s a legitimate OHS issue to raise with your employer under s73 of the Act – the plant is unsafe, and necessitates an unsafe system of work (in loading/unloading the trucks).  There also should be consultation in the identification of hazards and risks and on actions to control theses. (See the following pages: Duties of employers; Resolution of issues; and Duty to consult). Give the union a call too…

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

Union puts pressure on ALDI over driver safety

Transport workers are battling a supermarket monster that not only refuses to talk about safety but is waging a war to silence opponents. The Transport Workers Union (TWU) is asking the community to help to put pressure on Aldi to make safety a priority.

Aldi truck drivers have reported: 

  • pressure to work long hours despite being fatigued 
  • being humiliated for saying they’re fatigued 
  • blocked fire exits 
  • loading docks held open by wooden pallets 
  • sub-contractors in the Aldi supply chain not paying drivers the wages and superannuation they are entitled to.

Despite all this, Aldi won’t talk to the union about safety. Instead the billion-dollar retailer took a Federal Court case to stop the TWU speaking out about these problems. After two long years, Aldi dropped key charges against the union last week, but is still refusing to take responsibility for safety. Truck drivers and supporters have been protesting at Aldi stores, and they intend to continue. Read more, go to an action and/or sign the petition to ALDI here.

International union news

Qatar: ITUC welcomes end of the kafala ‘slavery’ system
Qatar has dismantled the kafala system of modern slavery that has seen migrant workers abused and killed. In a move welcomed by the global union confederation ITUC, exit visas for workers – including domestic workers, those in government and public institutions, and workers employed at sea, in agriculture as well as casual workers – have been eliminated. These workers now have the same rights as all workers in Qatar.

The abolition of no objection certificates (NOC) will allow workers to change their jobs without the permission of their employer, following normal contractual commitments. “Qatar is changing. The new tranche of laws will bring an end to the kafala system of modern slavery: exit visas for all workers including domestic workers eliminated; a system of contracts that are transparent and labour courts to enforce them; the end to permission to leave a job, with criteria equivalent to any modern industrial relations system; and a government fund to ensure workers are not disadvantaged by exploitative employers, while the state pursues recovery of entitlements,” said ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow. “Workers want to work in the Gulf states, they want to support their families at home, but they also want decent work where they are treated fairly and with dignity and respect. While we witness the changes in Qatar, sadly this is not the case in neighbouring countries where migrant workers are still treated as less than human with few rights and freedoms.”

The union leader added: “The reforms need to become embedded in employment practice and strong legal compliance. But the partnership between the Qatar government and the ILO supported by the ITUC is working to change lives – to change a nation.” The new laws will be submitted to the Advisory (Shura) Council in November and are scheduled to come into effect on 1 January 2020. Read more: ITUC news release. ILO news release. Source: Risks 920



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