The Morrison Government has outright rejected a union push to establish a national system of uniform industrial manslaughter laws, saying existing laws should be better enforced and that a separate offence would create an “unrealistic expectation” of justice
The Government’s response came after a recent Senate inquiry recommended the establishment of a national system of uniform industrial manslaughter laws to keep workers safe, using existing Queensland laws as a starting point.
MUA WA Branch Secretary Christy Cain also passed a motion at the ALP National Conference in Adelaide this week that industrial manslaughter laws should be enacted in all states and territories within the first year of a Shorten Labor government.
“All workers in Australia deserve to know that there are consequences to negligent and reckless conduct which may lead – or tragically does lead – to a death,” the motion said.
“Strong industrial manslaughter laws and penalties which act as a real deterrent are an essential element of providing safer workplaces.”
Cain told the Conference: “This motion is so important because we can talk for weeks and weeks about wages and conditions of employment but they are all no good unless you go to work and then come home from work safely.
“Industrial manslaughter, I call it murder. Kill a worker, go to jail.”
Cain cited a case where a young construction worker during her first day on the job, without adequate training, fell 13 floors down a lift well to her death yet her employer was fined just $67,000.
“I hope rogue employers are listening to this – we need to punish employers who do not look after our safety and put them in jail,” Cain said.
ALP National Conference delegate Ann-Marie Allan posted to Facebook that Cain’s address had brought her to tears.
“You brought me to tears today as I listened. I’ve waited for over 40 years for industrial manslaughter laws - your address stirred up the memories and the wounds and the struggle in the days, weeks and years after my father died at work, crushed by a one and a half tonne press.
“You never get over it! I am thankful to you and the ETU for bringing this amendment to the party platform and thank you for the minute silence to remember those who went to work and never came home.
“We can never forget - we will never forget. That is my tragic story. Kill a worker, go to jail.”
The Senate Inquiry also recommended that unions and families be given the right to bring cases under the new laws on behalf of workers and that the health and safety framework needs to respond to the poor safety outcomes from insecure forms of work, such as labour hire.
But the Morrison Government’s formal response to the Senate inquiry said: “A separate industrial manslaughter offence in the model WHS laws is unlikely to achieve justice for families who have lost a loved one in the workplace.
“While justice is seen to be available under laws that apply tough penalties to the death of a worker, justice is unlikely to be achieved where, based on the evidence presented to the inquiry, enforcement of laws is an issue.
“To suggest the introduction of an industrial manslaughter offence is the solution to the issue of workplace deaths would create an unrealistic expectation.”
The government said it believed a more effective approach would be to focus on enforcement of existing laws, particularly the way in which investigations into workplace deaths were conducted.
“The government’s view is that the current offences in the model WHS laws, together with current criminal manslaughter laws, are able to address workplace deaths provided they are applied appropriately,” it said.
ACTU President Michele O’Neil said Australia urgently needs national, uniform industrial manslaughter laws enshrined in OHS legislation as some employers take too many negligent and unacceptable risks with workers lives every day and an effective deterrent is overdue.
“This is a totally inadequate response to an issue of such national importance – 115 workers in this country have died at work this year, 15 of them since the Senate inquiry report was released in October,” O’Neil said.
“Families expressly asked the Minister not to release their response to the Senate Inquiry into industrial deaths in the lead up to Christmas, which is the first without a loved one for many of these families.”
ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien said every worker in Australia, from the construction of offices to the gig economy, should be able to rely on a safe and healthy workplace.
“We know that workers in insecure work are 50 per cent more likely to be killed at work,” O’Brien said.
“When deaths at work are caused by the disgraceful actions of reckless bosses who can’t be held to account due to inadequate laws, we have to change the rules.”