Federation supports review of work laws

Federation last week wrote to the NSW Government calling on it to support proposed changes to work health and safety (WHS) laws to provide better protection for workers from psychological injury and sexual harassment in the workplace.

The changes would also create national penalties for industrial manslaughter.

The upcoming Workplace Relations Ministerial Council (WRMC) meeting scheduled for 1 May, 2021, will consider the recommendations arising from the Review of Model Work Health and Safety Laws.

In 2018, ministers with responsibility for work health and safety agreed to a review of the model work health and safety laws that were implemented in 2011. Throughout 2018, Marie Boland conducted the review, on behalf of WHS Ministers and in February 2019, the Boland review with its 34 recommendations was published.

Federation made a comprehensive submission to the Boland review and while not all of the union’s recommendations were adopted in the final report from Boland, Federation has indicated support for all of her final recommendations.

One of the most important Boland recommendations is ensuring the model WHS laws deal effectively with ill health due to psychosocial risks. This was also one of the recommendations of the 2020 Sex Discrimination Commissioners Report, Respect@work.

Recent events in Federal Parliament have shone a much-needed light on the right of every worker to feel safe at work, particularly women.

In order for changes to be made to the model WHS laws, a majority of votes of the ministers must be secured. The vote of the NSW Government could prove critical, particularly as the federal minister responsible for the model work health and safety laws was, until very recently, Christian Porter. The position of his newly appointed successor, Michaelia Cash, is unknown.

SafeWork Australia describes psychological hazards as anything which increases the risk of work-related stress including: high job demands, low job control, poor support, poor change management and low reward and recognition.1

Such hazards are unfortunately very commonly experienced by members in schools as shown in the 2019 report Understanding work in schools – the foundation for teaching and learning2 based on a survey of over 18,000 teachers, executives, principals and non-school based teachers in NSW around their workload, as well as the recently released final report of the “Valuing the teaching profession” inquiry chaired by The Hon Dr Geoff Gallop.3

At a time when the public school system is experiencing a significant teacher shortage which is projected to worsen as student enrolments skyrocket, it is vitally important that the government address this alarming rise in psychological injury in order to attract and retain a high quality suitably qualified teaching workforce.

In TAFE, excessive workloads, administrative red tape, low job control and precarious employment are all contributing to increasing incidences of psychological injury amongst TAFE teachers.

The NSW government must not pass up this opportunity to address mental health and sexual harassment at work.

Federation members are urged to join the ACTU’s online email campaign to tell both the federal and NSW state governments that they must take this once in a generation opportunity to fix our work health and safety laws, because quite simply, work shouldn’t hurt.