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On November 29, 2014, all Australian citizens living in Victoria over the age of 18 will hit the polls to take part in the state election. While the candidates running for office haven’t made workplace health and safety a major issue in their running platforms, that doesn’t mean organisations and citizens in Victoria aren’t concerned.
The Australian Industry Group, otherwise known as AIG, issued their pre-election statement for this voting cycle on November 2. This is a report that the group submits before each round of voting in hopes of influencing candidates running for office. The report contains a variety of recommendations for the government soon to take office, including issues related to state-based taxes, regulatory reform, state holidays and employment trends in specific industries.
The pre-election statement issued for this year’s candidates in Victoria includes some strong recommendations for employment in the construction industry. It also contains some recommendations related to workplace health and safety.
Spotlight on the Economy
The AIG spared no time digging into highlighting what the group believes is a major obstacle for Victoria: the struggling economy. The report states that prices are high and productivity in the region is low, creating a difficult economy for Victorian residents. At least part of the blame for this is placed on the closing of the automotive industry which previously kept the economy in Victoria quite strong.
In order to strengthen the economic conditions in Victoria and bring more businesses into the area, the AIG recommends that the incoming government consider taking the following steps:
- Reduce taxation
- Reduce business regulation
- Invest more in infrastructure
- Encourage innovation
- Take action to increase worker skills
- The AIG believes that the new Victorian government can reduce the cost of operating a business in Victoria by reducing taxes and easing regulations placed on businesses. They recommend more investment in infrastructure and a focus on innovation and skill enhancement because it might increase business productivity in the region.
These recommendations will have an impact on all industries operating out of Victoria, and that includes industries bound by strict health and safety guidelines.
Recommendations for the Harmonised OHS laws
The AIG also recommended that the new Victorian government commit to the Harmonised OHS laws, stating that they can help reduce the cost of business. This refers to the Intergovernmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Occupational Health and Safety which was signed by the Council of Australian Governments in 2008. The goal was to enact one health and safety code for all Australian governments, ensuring that businesses and workers enjoyed the same protections regardless of where they lived and worked.
One of the reasons given by the Council of Australian Governments for harmonising the OHS laws throughout Australia was to reduce “compliance and regulatory burdens for businesses operating across State and Territory boundaries.” Since the AIG is calling for the new Victorian government to reduce the cost of business in order to spark more economic activity, it makes sense that they would encourage the state to agree to the harmonised laws in order to reduce regulation pressure on businesses.
To date, the Victorian government has refused to agree to the harmonised occupational health and safety laws because of the expense. The government viewed a report presented by PricewaterhouseCooper regarding the expense of initiating the changes and determined that the benefits would not justify that expected expense.
There is one more major criticism against the harmonised laws which may have impacted the state’s decision not to commit: there aren’t too many Australian businesses operating in multiple states and territories. Statistics were used to show that most business operate in just one state or territory, so they won’t benefit much from standardised laws that apply to all states equally.
Mark Goodsell, Director – NSW of the AIG, is now pointing out that the logistics industry was not included in the statistics used in that big criticism of the harmonised laws. He points out that that logistics industry includes many businesses that operate in states throughout Australia, but those businesses may have headquarters in only one state. He reasons that these companies would benefit tremendously from harmonised OHS laws throughout all states and territories, since they operate vehicles in all regions of the country.
Will the New Victorian Government Conform to Harmonisation?
Joining the rest of Australia in the commitment to the harmonised OHS laws was just one recommendation presented in the lengthy AIG pre-election statement. While members of the new government have made no mention of workplace health and safety laws through their campaigning efforts, only time will tell whether they are paying attention to these recommendations and whether they will take action to bring Victoria on board with the commitment to harmonisation.
Victoria does have a good worker’s compensation plan in place, and many of the workplace health and safety laws in the state are well-developed and effective. Yet, the AIG argues that harmonising with the rest of Australia will help the state make a comeback as a leader in this important industry.
Mark Goodsell notes that the state was once a leader in OHS but has recently slipped from that position because the government is out of the loop in terms of harmonisation. He states that the states and territories already committed to the agreement are working together to create the best OHS laws possible, but the Victorian government has been left out of those negotiations due to its stance against the harmonisation project.
As Victorian residents hit the streets to vote for their preferred stated candidates on November 29, many of them may not think much about occupational health and safety laws. That doesn’t mean that the candidates they vote for won’t take a position for or against the harmonisation of OHS laws after they take office.
Residents concerned can look up their candidate’s previous statements and political actions to determine whether they have taken a stance on one side or the other on this issue.
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