Page 2456 - Week 07 - Tuesday, 31 July 2018

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We know that workers, particularly young workers and those employed in insecure work arrangements, which are proliferating in the construction industry, might feel nervous about raising safety concerns without a formal mechanism through which to do it. Health and safety representatives and committees empower workers by giving them someone they can go to whose job it is to take their concerns seriously. These changes recognise that workers have an invaluable understanding of how processes are working at the coalface. Moreover, they are directly affected by poor health and safety standards and culture.

I was at a meeting recently where I noted that I had introduced this bill, and afterwards a relatively new CFMEU official—someone I had never met before—approached me and asked more about it. I said, “You know, this bill will require the election of health and safety reps and health and safety committees and ensure they get the training they need.” And he said, “That’s fantastic. I go on to too many worksites that haven’t got a health and safety rep and people don’t know where to go to express their concerns.” Having a well-trained health and safety rep makes all the difference in identifying health and safety risks, ensuring that they can be addressed by having someone on site who is empowered to address those concerns. A trained health and safety rep has the power to stop work if necessary if the risk is great.

We will be watching closely to ensure that the intentions of these amendments to provide workers with a stronger voice in consultation mechanisms actually produce positive results in the workplace. As others have noted, the Work Health and Safety Act already contains provisions that recognise the importance of consultation and coordination, but the onus is currently on a worker or multiple workers to request these formal consultation mechanisms. This makes consultation variable across worksites.

RMIT University suggested reviewing the ways in which workers are engaged and consulted on construction sites. We did that, and the measures introduced in this bill respond to that recommendation. I add that they do so without impinging on freedom of association. Nothing in this bill requires workers to be represented by unions. There is a requirement for a principle contractor on a major construction project to consult with an eligible union, but that requirement does not impose any requirements for a worker to be represented by a union. I also add that we have made these changes with a significant amount of consultation not only directly with the Work Safety Council but also through a consultation paper released in April this year.

One measure introduced in the bill, as I have said, requires the election and training of health and safety representatives. Health and safety representatives play a key role in consultation and cooperation on a worksite by representing the interests of work groups. They facilitate a worker voice for health and safety matters, and they are trusted because they are elected by workers in a work group who share common health and safety interests.

Unlike those opposite, the ACT government believes workplaces supported by union representatives are safer workplaces. Indeed, the Work Health and Safety Act in its nationally harmonised form recognises that unions are a key partner in ensuring

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