WORKCHOICES IS one of the biggest threats to the health and safety of Australian workers, according to the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA).
The Federal Government’s year-old industrial relations system leads to stress and high workloads, said Victorian vice-president of the SIA, Kevin Jones. “It’s the greatest threat to workers’ health since asbestos because it harms people from all walks of life in such an insidious way.”
According to the Victorian WorkCover Authority, stress-related injuries already make up a growing proportion of the approximately 30,000 workers’compensation claims filed in Victoria each year, amounting to almost $134 million.
“It’s not just the workers and their families who will suffer either – employers can expect productivity to fall as a result of rising absenteeism and presenteeism,” he said.
However, Peter Hendy, chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), strongly disputed the SIA’s claims.
He said the claim misrepresented the relationship between workplace reform and safety.
“WorkChoices is about wages, conditions, agreements and awards. As industrial relations legislation, it does not in any way interfere with or reduce the very substantial safety obligations of employers under federal and state/territory occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.”
According to Hendy, Australia’s safety record has improved substantially since workplace reform commenced in the 1990s.
“Workers’ compensation data demonstrates that between the commencement of the Workplace Relations Act in 1997 and 2003 (the most recent comparable data), compensated fatalities have decreased by 40 per cent and compensated injuries by 15 per cent,” Hendy said.
Economic pressures on individuals and family members encourage people to ‘cash in’ annual leave, leading to huge numbers of exhausted, stressed working Australians, according Jones.
In response to this, Hendy said pursuing national consistency in OHS laws and producing a more balanced and effective framework of OHS regulation would assist employers and employees in achieving even greater improvements in workplace safety.