Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 2 Hansard (7 March) . . Page.. 319..
MR BARR (continuing):
I thank Mr Gentleman for raising this issue in the Assembly. The effect of the federal government's WorkChoices legislation on the health and safety of workers is an important and highly relevant topic. I am pleased to hear from Mr Stefaniak that there is agreement that there is not a more basic entitlement for a worker than to be able to work in a safe place and to be able to return home healthy and uninjured at the end of the day.
The data paints a particularly horrific picture. In the financial year 2004-05, 214 workers in Australia died as a direct result of an incident at work. They are alarming figures, but they do not reflect the workers who may not have been covered by insurance, who perhaps might have contracted a disease from their occupation or who were killed travelling to or from work.
Here in the ACT, our workers compensation scheme that covers the private sector work force issues approximately 13,000 insurance policies each year. By December 2005, there had been over 4,000 insurance claims for incidents in the 2003-04 financial year. So, to put that into some perspective, on average every day of the year at least 10 private sector workers in the ACT are injured or affected to such an extent that a workers compensation claim is made. Of course, for each of these statistics there is a person who has experienced discomfort, pain, injury or, sadly, even death. There are scores of individuals and families each day whose lives are fundamentally changed and affected by the success or otherwise of the regulation of occupational health and safety.
So, whilst this debate may have seemed somewhat esoteric at the beginning, it is one that affects us all. Despite what the federal government might think, there is undoubtedly a link between the WorkChoices legislation and occupational health and safety. You simply cannot create an industrial system which trades an employee's family, social and wellbeing responsibilities for short-term financial gain and expect that there will be no repercussions for safety. I ask members to consider the possibility of employees trading off large portions of their leave, losing their penalty rates and then being told that they must work overtime to guarantee their continued employment. Does the federal government honestly think that such a worker whose ability to rest and enjoy leisure has been severely diminished will be able to maintain the focus on safety that is needed to ensure an injury free workplace? I pose the question to those opposite: do they think that?
But the federal legislation does not just hit workers in this way. It actually makes it harder for unions to check on the safety of their members. An initial glance at the WorkChoices legislation might leave one with the impression that the regulation of occupational health and safety is something that has been left to the states and territories. In fact, occupational health and safety, including entry of a representative of a trade union to a premise for a purpose connected with occupational health and safety is a non-excluded matter. If you flick past the next 720 sections of the legislation, you will come to part 15 of the Workplace Relations Act 1996, which deals with the right of entry provisions. It is this part of the legislation that directly impacts on the way right of entry powers can be exercised in the ACT.