Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

WA: Labor’s race to the bottom not good enough for Barnett

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The plan of the Federal Labor Government to ‘harmonise’ the Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) laws has hit a major snag with a number of the States – including Western Australia – now opposing the plans.

In a media release earlier this year Chris Evans, the Minister for Workplace Relations, revealed the intent behind the laws when he failed to even pretend that the laws would improve safety standards for workers. As he pointed out the laws are designed to cut ‘red tape’ and ‘save’ around $180 million.

The idea is to lower the standards across the board to the lowest common denominator. While some aspects of the OH&S harmonisation would be an improvement for workers in Western Australia, for workers in other states many of the changes represent a major step backwards.

Labor was elected off the back of the union led ‘Your Rights at Work’ campaign. Since then they have thanked the union movement by consistently kicking working people in the face. First by keeping the vast bulk of Howard’s anti worker laws and now they want to push a race to the bottom with OH&S standards.

Safe Work Australia estimates that up to 7000 workers die each year as a result of workplace injury or illness – that is roughly 20 people every day – and a further 640,000 are injured at work. It is against this backdrop that Gillard now seeks to water down worker safety even further. This is a sick joke.

The Western Australian Barnett Liberal state government is opposing the harmonisation plan claiming that they have not had enough time to analyse the impact it will have in WA. In reality Barnett’s opposition is mostly due to party politics and in defence of his big business backers.

Worksafe WA was notified of 45 deaths last financial year. This by itself is unacceptable, however added to that should be deaths outside of workplaces that come as a result of an incident at work – many of which Worksafe WA does not include in it’s figures. On average in WA 51 workers are injured each day.

The Barnett government is opposed to the harmonisation plan as they do not want to see any increase in penalties on employers for serious breaches of health and safety laws. They also do not want families or unions to be able to initiate prosecutions against dodgy employers.

They want to stop unions immediately entering a workplace when there has been a breach of safety laws, and want to stop health and safety representatives from directing work to stop if there is an imminent risk to safety.

As any worker will know, safety for a boss is an afterthought. Their main concern is increasing profits. Spending money to make workplaces safe only gets in the way of profits and they often fight tooth and nail against the most basic of improvements.

The Socialist Party opposes the OH&S harmonisation plans, but for the opposite reasons of the Barnett government. We support improving safety standards for all workers, not pandering to the lowest common denominator. These proposed changes show the Labor Party up as just another pro-big business party. The union movement should break ties with this anti-worker party and organise industrial action to protect and improve OH&S legislation in every state.

By David Suter


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