18/02/2009 - 22:00

OHS reform under fire

18/02/2009 - 22:00

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UNIONS and employer groups have become unlikely allies in jointly resisting the federal government's proposed model for occupational health and safety reform.

UNIONS and employer groups have become unlikely allies in jointly resisting the federal government's proposed model for occupational health and safety reform.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry of WA and UnionsWA, along with the state government, are opposing plans for an executive body to administer OHS laws.

Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard has proposed the new body after the senate rejected the government's Safe Work Australia bill.

Critics believe the proposed executive body would be dominated by bureaucrats at the exclusion of industry and worker groups.

CCI occupational health and safety director Anne Bellamy said there was too much weighting towards government representatives.

"The most appropriate way to bypass the legislation was to set up an executive body .... so it wouldn't be an independent body," Ms Bellamy said.

"If the executive body reflects the structure of Safe Work Australia, certainly employers would not have an effective say.

"Their role would be greatly diminished and it would put decision making powers with the jurisdiction of the government."

The two main concerns with the legislation were the minor representation for unions and industry, and the fact that unions and industry representatives would not be required to vote for a decision to be made.

"One of the reasons why WA OHS has been really effective is that it's been subject to proper tripartite representation, and WA law has always been very sound law and it's stood the test of time," Ms Bellamy said.

UnionsWA secretary Dave Robinson said it was unusual for employers and unions to agree so strongly.

"We, like the employers, are very concerned that the key parties aren't actually given proper representation and industry could be quite sidelined in the whole process," he said.

"It certainly looks as though the agenda has been captured by the bureaucrats.

"Bureaucracy will be able to determine key issues of workplace safety, and when there are issues that unions and industry might agree on, and they're overruled by bureaucracy, you can only think that it will be driven substantially by cost and budget."

WA Treasurer and Commerce Minster Troy Buswell said he supported the national unification of OHS laws, but there needed to be more representation for industry and unions.

"Our issue is with the framework and that employer groups and union representatives will have a minor role in that process," he said.

There was also a strong feeling that Safe Work Australia should be established by a legislative process, rather than through executive powers.

"There was an agreement signed by states and the commonwealth that requires Safe Work Australia be established through an act of parliament, and that has basically been ignored," he said.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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