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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 13 Hansard (26 November) . . Page.. 4682 ..

Union officials-rights

MR PRATT: Mr Speaker, my question, through you, is to the Minister for Industrial Relations, Ms Gallagher. You are proposing to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act to bring it in line with the relevant New South Wales legislation. Section 77 of the Occupational health and Safety Act 2000 (New South Wales) provides:

An authorised representative of an industrial organisation of employees may, for the purposes of investigating any suspected breach of the occupational health and safety legislation, enter any premises the representative has reasons to believe is a place of work where members of that organisation (or persons who are eligible to be members of that organisation) work.

Minister, this would give union officials greater powers than the police who must obtain a warrant before they enter premises without the permission of the owners of the property. Why are you proposing to give union officials greater powers than the police to enter any premises?

MS GALLAGHER: I thank Mr Pratt for the question. We certainly are planning to increase the powers of union officials to enter workplaces. If you take the time to look at all the international and national research, it shows that where you have union activity in workplaces, particularly around OH&S, those workplaces improve their occupational health and safety standards.

This government is not concerned with unions; we are happy to work with them. We think they provide a positive influence in workplaces, and we are pleased to bring us in line with New South Wales.

As you said, recommendation 16 of the OH&S Council provided to me was that the OH&S Act be amended to provide a right of entry for union officers to enter workplaces and investigate suspected breaches of the OH&S Act similar to provisions in the New South Wales OH&S Act. Currently union officials in the ACT have the right of entry under the federal Workplace Relations Act, but this is limited to inspecting suspected breaches of industrial legislation, awards and agreements. It is not proposed that union officers have formal enforcement powers.

However, allowing unions access to workplaces to investigate safety breaches will promote compliance by encouraging informal resolution of safety issues of the workplace. This will complement the formal compliance and enforcement activity undertaken by government regulators. As I said, there is clear international evidence that links union activity at workplaces to improved health and safety outcomes.

I am proposing to amend the act to allow right of entry for union officials. This recommendation was strongly supported by the employee representatives on the OH&S Council and the OH&S Commissioner in their advice to me.

MR PRATT: On the matter of the legislation, Minister, are you suddenly rushing to introduce this legislation-given that the review of OH&S, in the time of your government, is over two years old-because you are trying to curry favour with the electorate prior to your preselection?

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