BY PAUL OBOOHOV
CANBERRA — The ACT Legislative Assembly passed the first industrial manslaughter laws in Australia on November 27. The legislation, introduced by the ACT Labor government, was supported by two independent MLAs and Greens MLA Kerrie Tucker, after five hours of debate.
Around 80 workers, family and friends of workers who had died at their workplaces, and union officials, sat in the public gallery during the debate, holding placards which indicated their support for the government's position. Some employer representatives opposing the legislation were also in the gallery.
ACT industrial relations minister Katy Gallagher, who has been pushing the laws, pointed to the poor safety record in Australia, where 50 workers die on the job each week. She said that there was no reason why a recklessly negligent employer causing deaths of employees shouldn't get a jail sentence.
Under the new laws, employers could be fined up to $5 million or face 25 years in jail, if their neglect or recklessness leads to the death of a worker.
Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union ACT assistant secretary Glenn Parry hailed the new laws as a huge win for working people, and said that in a year "it will be very hard [for other jurisdictions] to not follow suit if these laws prove to increase safety standards as we expect they will".
Prior to the vote, federal industrial relations minister Kevin Andrews publicly pleaded with the ACT government not to set a precedent for the states and to keep the emphasis on "prevention" of workplace deaths through occupational health and safety regulations.
The chief executive of the ACT and Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Chris Peters, said that 40 employer associations nationally oppose the laws, but that since the ACT Legislative Assembly had passed them, his organisation would work to educate businesses about occupational health and safety standards and the need for regular safety audits to "avoid them coming foul of this legislation".
From Green Left Weekly, December 3, 2003.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.