Queensland: New Workplace Safety Laws to Target Union Safety Inspectors

Monday 17 February 2014 @ 1.10 p.m. | Industrial Law

The Queensland government is proposing to implement the first tranche of findings from their review of the national model work health and safety laws which commenced on 1 January 2012. Last week the Queensland Government released proposed amendments which they say aim to better protect worksites from “union abuse.” Entitled the Work Health and Safety and Other Legislation Bill 2014 (bill) the new bill focuses on work health and safety (WHS) provisions which they claim are abused by construction unions who “hijack” worksites and cause workers to be “held to ransom.”

Key Reforms:  

  • Changes to rules related to entry without prior notice to inquire into a suspected contravention under the Work Health and Safety Act.  WHS inspectors will now be required to give 24 hours notice before entering a workplace to inquire into suspected contraventions;
  • Increasing the maximum penalty for electrical safety breaches from $440 to $33 000;
  • New rules designed to prevent “union bullying;”
  • De – regulating industry with a view to reducing compliance costs and “red tape.”

According to Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Jarrod Bleijie:

“Under these reforms, construction unions will no longer be able to use loopholes in the system to force their way onto worksites and lock workers out… Under the current system, unions have been entering worksites without prior notice and then shutting them down using trumped up or suspected safety contraventions."

Mr Bleijie spoke about the intended benefits to the construction industry:

“Last year a major contractor and its employees lost 42 days of work due to illegal strike activity in the first year of their enterprise agreement,” he said.  “Our reforms foster safety, fairness and productivity by providing legitimate avenues for safety issues to be raised and dealt with appropriately.  “Recent figures show Queensland's non-fatal injury and disease claim rate for the construction industry has decreased by 25 per cent, compared to the Australian average decrease of just 17 percent. "   

Mr Bleijie said the new laws would complement the Building Construction and Compliance Branch (BCCB) that the Government created to crackdown on "militant union activity" and ensure safety compliance on construction sites.

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