Drug testing at work gets green light

by Iain Hopkins12 Oct 2011

In a landmark decision by Fair Work Australia (FWA), Victorian employers of building site workers will have the power to enforce compulsory drug and alcohol tests, and the decision is being touted as a ruling which could expand to other industries.

After a long standing battle between employer groups and unions, FWA has finally settled the dispute which had employers arguing for better regulation against ‘widespread’ drug and alcohol related incidents plaguing the industry, and unions wanting a so-called cooperative approach.

The unanimous decision handed down by the full bench of FWA to enforce drug and alcohol tests was found to be a “reasonable” request from an employer in the building industry.

In a statement, FWA said: “The risks to employee safety posed by drug and alcohol use have long been recognised by this tribunal, and compulsory drug and alcohol testing is, of itself, not so extraordinary that it could not be argued to be a reasonable employer instruction.''

The ruling comes after contracting firm Theiss and Wagstaff Piling appealed earlier decisions that found mandatory testing breached current workplace agreements with the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).

Speaking to The Age, Master Builders Association of Victoria executive director Brian Welch said the FWA decision will “reverberate” through the Victorian industry, and added “It's not only an important, but a landmark decision for our industry.”

The CFMEU said it was considering an appeal to the full bench decision and was committed to safety by “helping any of our members who may have issues with drugs or alcohol”.

The union claimed that their drug and alcohol policy has been effectual since it was implemented in 1993, and said they believe the best way to move forward is through consensus and cooperation in the industry.

Welch said despite limited data available on the number of people under the influence at work, those in the industry have long seen the problem as “endemic”, and added that the decision will ensure workers are ‘living up to their end of the bargain’ by presenting to work in a fit and proper state.

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