Unions denied access for safety talks

The AMMA has lodged a submission to the South Australian Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2009, recommending, as its primary position, to remove Part 5A from the Consultation Bill, denying union representatives the right to enter South Australian workplaces and engage in consultation.

The AMMA has lodged a submission to the South Australian Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2009, recommending, as its primary position, to remove Part 5A from the Consultation Bill, denying union representatives the right to enter South Australian workplaces and engage in consultation.

The Act does not currently afford unions a right to enter the workplace for OHS purposes, however, the South Australian Government is proposing to introduce provisions giving union officials (and other persons) right of entry powers for occupational health and safety purposes.

According to the AMMA submission, significantly, in the absence of union access to workplaces, the safety standards of employers in South Australia have been improving under the current state OHS system.

The AMMA said the evidentiary basis for affording union representatives a right to enter the workplace to engage in consultation is lacking.

“This is evidenced by strong moves towards achieving the government’s strategic goal of a 40% injury reduction by 2012, a drop a significant drop in fatalities from 18-20 per annum to just 5-8 per annum,” the submission read.

According to the submission, “When government proposes to allow a union to enter the workplace, an appropriate balance must be struck between the right of the union to represent its members with the right of the employer to operate its business without undue interference or interruption.”

“This balance is not achieved in Part 5A of the Consultation Bill. While Part 5A follows a national trend of allowing unions to enter workplaces for OHS purposes, the provisions are drafted so broadly that it represents a significant expansion of powers where there is no evidentiary basis, lacks clarity and blurs the lines between health and safety and industrial relations issues.”

Presently most Australian states and territories (except South Australia and Tasmania), provide for some form of union right of entry under occupational health and safety legislation, with differing rights and obligations in respect to the entry.

Significant differences arise with respect to the purpose for which a union can enter the workplace, with the Northern Territory and Queensland specifically allowing unions to enter the workplace to hold discussions on health and safety matters.

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