Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2009 Week 15 Hansard (Thursday, 10 December 2009) . . Page.. 5708 ..
people died that night. Twelve thousand more died due to the long-term effects of the chemicals released into the air. Half a million were also injured.
The initial response from Union Carbide when the people of Bhopal, many of them current and former employees of the company, fled to hospitals was that the chemical compounds which were burning their eyes and causing thousands to die from the blood and fluid in their lungs were trade secrets. No information was initially given on how to treat injuries, leaving doctors unable to do anything to stop the deaths; they could only ease the pain. When Union Carbide eventually paid compensation to the victims still alive, the average payout was approximately $600—$600 intended to last for the rest of the victim’s life.
We should reflect here in this place that we are fortunate enough to have been born in a country that has taken health and safety in work environments seriously, where companies are compelled to pay compensation to victims of industrial accidents. The regulations we have on occupational health and safety are the work of the many and the few, the workers, companies and legislators. The safety of people at work has moved from a paradigm of the worker as a disposable, replaceable asset to a more enlightened view of safety as the first priority. But more needs to be done.
Health and safety here in the ACT is necessarily a complex interaction of regulations, standards, inspections, enforcement and prosecutions. It has a role for employer groups, legal counsel, unions and individual responsibility.
Let me briefly outline what the ACT Greens believe. We believe that employers, employees and their representatives should work together to ensure that health and safety is the first priority in every workplace. We believe that joint responsibility and good faith collaboration between employees and employers produce the best outcome in a workplace. We believe that occupational health and safety goes beyond physical dangers and harms. Psychological and mental wellbeing are intimately tied to the work environment, and depression and mental illness can cause death and lasting injury as much as can falls from height and asbestos inhalation.
Whilst supporting positive consensus between employers, employees and unions, we believe that responsible governments cannot simply rely on self-regulation to protect the lives of ACT citizens at work. The government, through WorkCover, must take an active role. No amount of accusations, prosecutions, fines or civil suits will bring back loved ones lost at work. It is never enough for a government to cry foul after the fact. Whilst we cannot prevent every tragedy and injury that occurs in the workplace, for any government to let thorough inspections and audits fall by the wayside represents a gross abdication of responsibility.
The Greens want to see positive action on health and safety. We want workplaces where an employee is free from retribution for raising health and safety concerns with their employer. We want broad consensus and acceptance that bullying, harassment, long working hours and undue stress are risks to a worker’s wellbeing that well-designed and well-managed jobs can avoid. We want simple, clear and stringent laws enforced by an effective, well-resourced and active WorkCover. We want these laws to be driven by the highest standards of safety for the people of Canberra, not by whatever is convenient for federal harmonisation. We want clearly outlined health and