Federal Labor Government’s proposals for work health and safety reform
The Labor Government has an agenda for safety-related changes. Two key changes we know about are in relation to:
- The Australian Building & Construction Commission; and
- Respect@Work Report harassment recommendations.
The Australian Building & Construction Commission
The biggest target in the sights of the Labor Government is likely to be the dismantling or re-organisation of the current Australian Building & Construction Commission (ABCC).
The ABCC is an Australian Government agency established by the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Act 2016 (BCIIP Act). It commenced operations on 2 December 2016 with the stated purpose to uphold the law and change behaviour to make the building and construction industry fair, efficient and productive. Practically, the ABCC enforces and prosecutes any breaches of the Building Code 2016.
Known as the construction industry watch-dog, the ABCC has long been criticised by unions for its prosecutions of its officials. In respect of safety, the ABCC has focused particularly on right of entry, including for safety reasons. These are rights that union officials have under state and federal laws to gain access to construction sites to investigate suspected contraventions of work health and safety laws. It is unclear how these issues will be managed going forward without a body like the ABCC inspectorate.
Associated with the dismantling of the ABCC will be a review of the operation of the Registered Organisations Commission, which regulates the operation of unions and employer associations.
Respect@Work Report harassment recommendations
The Labor Government has committed to implementing all recommendations from the Respect@Work Report.
The Morrison Government, while introducing the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Act (the Act) did not fully implement the 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work Report.
The Act did not implement the following safety-related recommendations, which will now be looked at by the Labor Government:
- recommendation 16c to expressly prohibit creating or facilitating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating or offensive environment on the basis of sex;
- recommendation 17 to insert a positive duty into the Sexual Discrimination Act requiring all constitutionally-covered employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation in their workplace, supported by inquiry and enforcement powers;
- recommendation 19 to grant the Sex Discrimination Commissioner the power to initiate their own inquiries – this change would be a significant avenue for enquiry from an independent body into complaints; and
- recommendation 28 to insert a clear prohibition on sexual harassment in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and a new complaints mechanism. The current legislation does not go that far. While it included a ‘stop sexual harassment’ order that could be granted, this is a weaker mechanism than contemplated by the Respect@Work Report and does not provide compensation to complainants.
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