Minister for Finance and Services,Greg Pearce announced plans to fast track vital reforms that are needed in WorkCover and the Compensation Authorities. This announcement comes after both Greg McCarthy and CEO Lisa Hunt resigned from their positions.
Pearce stated that his belief that when one considers the current “untenable” scheme of WorkCover, coupled with a growing deficit; it is clear that WorkCover must be reformed.
McCarthy and Hunt allegedly both supported a need for reforms and now the government has decided to move ahead with new reforms under new leadership.
The OHS Harmonisation reforms will be fast-tracked with Deputy Chair, Nicholas Whitlam, and current Chief Financial Officer, Julie Newman. Until replacements are appointed, Newman will be acting as CEO, and Whitlam as Chair. McCarthy has throughout the years, developed various reform options, one of which is the merging of WorkCover and four other compensation authorities; the Motor Accidents Authority, Dust and Diseases Tribunal, Sporting Injuries Committee and Lifetime Care and Support Authority. McCarthy believed the merger of these organisations would be the most economically viable way of ensuring savings.
McCarthy was a vital member of the Board of WorkCover for ten years, where he reportedly worked tirelessly on developing reforms to improve the scheme of WorkCover.
Hunt was CEO since 2010, where she was instrumental in pushing for changes in the workplace by implementing a new Work, Health and Safety regime.
Safe Work Australia has responded to media reports that they’ve labeled “inaccurate and alarmist”. The media reports are regarding volunteers and the OHS Harmonisation or Work Health and Safety laws.Safe Work is concerned that the reports may discourage volunteers and future volunteers from undertaking work.Chair of Safe Work, Tom Phillips stated that the harmonised OHS laws would not apply to every type of volunteer activity or organisation.
Phillips stated that the laws only apply if the volunteer organisation also employs staff ( in conjunction with volunteers) to carry out work for the organisation. Phillips stated that this stipulation is not new since even the old legislation specifically applied to volunteer.Phillips continued, stating that the duty to ensure a safe workplace remains the primary responsibility of the employee, not the volunteer.
Chief Executive of Volunteering Australia, Cary Pedicini stated his organisation’s support for the OHS harmonisation laws.
Pedicini claims that the harmonisation with result in a higher level of protection for volunteers wherever they decide to volunteer, which Pedicini states is a good thing for volunteers.
In related news, Ordained ministers will no longer be considered simply as “servants of God” according to the OHS harmonisation. Instead they will be known as “workers” who can thus be prosecuted for safety breaches in the church.
Naturally, the changes have alarmed some religious organisations because they also mean that many elderly church volunteers can now be prosecuted for safety breaches and subsequently face fines of up to $300,000 or five years imprisonment.
According to a November 10th news report Western Australia is refusing to accept the new National OHS harmonisation laws that are to be signed up by January 1, 2012. This is causing a great deal of concern for the Australian council of trade who state that the WA government’s refusal is jeopardizing workers lives.
It has been pointed out that up to 21 workers are killed in WA each year and at least one worker is seriously injured every 30 minutes. With statics such as these one has to wonder why the Western Australian government would be reluctant to accept any OHS regulations that might prove to provide more safety to workers in Western Australia. However, according Government spokesmen the government feels that they were not given enough time or information about these guidelines and are concerned with the impact that such guidelines might have on the smaller businesses.
However, the unions feel that by refusing to accept the OHS guidelines, WA is sending the wrong message to employers and feel that the Barnett government should be concentrating on the rights of workers to have a safe working environment and rights of these workers families to know that their family members will be returning home from work safely.
Questions About the New OHS Harmonisation Laws
Questions and concerns that the new OHS harmonisation laws may actually create a less safe work environment in some areas and some other areas of Australia have also shown a reluctance to accept the new national guidelines as they stand. The question that no one seems willing or able to answer is what safety assurances will workers have if these new guidelines are not accepted.
The entire purpose of the OHS is to ensure that the workplace is safe for workers and that all workers get the training they need to help to insure their own safety and the safety of their co-workers and their workplace in general. If the OHS regulations are accepted or agreed with will that leave workers in WA and other areas with no protection in the workplace and no safety training?
These are question that WA needs to answer before they decide to completely reject the OHS guidelines and subject millions of workers to a lack of any safety protection what so ever. In the end it seems as though federal guidelines will prevail and those areas that are non compliant will be in for legal battles and possible fines for failing to comply with guidelines set down by OHS. However, what will happen in the end remains to be seen.
In the meantime, a 2000 signature petition was handed to the WA government on Thursday demanding that it sign up for the new regulations by January 1st. Only time will tell if the government will heed the demand issued by this petition. If the new regulations are accepted then WA will have a full year to comply with the new regulations. For the sake of the workers in WA it is hoped that the government makes the right decision for its workers.