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Speech: Offshore mining industry needs better worker safety

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 23 Feb 2016

In light of the offshore mining industry being inherently dangerous, Lee calls on the government to embrace world's best practice for offshore mining occupational health and safety legislation by adopting specific provisions of the model act and harmonising occupational health and safety laws governing offshore industries with those governing onshore industries.

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales):

The offshore mining industry is inherently dangerous. The dangers are exacerbated through a failure of the Liberal-National government to ensure top occupational health and safety conditions for offshore workers. What the Turnbull government needs to urgently address is the fact that the safety of offshore oil and gas workers is treated differently to that of their onshore colleagues. Why that is so is a question that should be answered, and it should be answered in a way that ensures that health and safety is a top priority and that there is consistency.

The Greens support the call by the ACTU to the Australian government, the Council of Australian Governments and relevant authorities to embrace world's best practice for offshore occupational health and safety legislation by adopting specific provisions of the model act and harmonising occupational health and safety laws governing offshore industries with those governing onshore industries.

The principle of tripartism should also be seen as a way to advance the solution to this problem. Tripartism is when we have government workers and employers optimising workplace health and safety through collaborative regulation. This should be a given. It is 2016. For all the carry-on that we hear from the minister in quite an insulting way to workers and unions day after day, this is how workplaces can and should operate. This is what is happening in so many other countries. The fact that it is not happening here reflects very poorly on the Turnbull government. Tripartism should be the foundation of the occupational health and safety approach for offshore workers.

Workers are familiar with their workplaces. Workers in the offshore industry are clearly well acquainted with the conditions and responsibilities that they have to manage every day. This makes their input on occupational health and safety matters invaluable. Again, this should be common sense. But, again, what we are seeing from this government is worker safety so often being downgraded, and this is another example of it.

The Australian offshore oil and gas industry is lagging behind international best practice benchmarks in occupational health and safety systems. A critical issue in on-the-job safety is right of entry. Again, this is something that the federal Turnbull government disputes at every turn. Why do they do that? Why do they want to limit right of entry? It is because it will make it easier for the employer. It will make it easier for the employer to downgrade conditions. When you cut corners, when you do not address occupational health and safety with the detail that it requires, the company will make more profits. That is where there is a major contradiction here. That is why there is a clear role for government to step in and get the right regulations in place and not sit on their hands or sit on the sidelines, as was the style of the Howard and Abbott governments and is now the style of the Turnbull government.

It should be remembered that the International Labour Organization actually highlights the crucial role of unions in securing safer and healthier workplaces. They strongly advocate-and this is from the ILO-'a strengthening of collective voice as the primary means of improving workers' conditions and protecting workers' health'. So right of entry and the collective actions of unions is recognised internationally. It is time the Turnbull government recognise that this is the best way for industry and for corporations to operate rather than having occupational health and safety becoming a controversial issue, undermining worker safety, resulting too often in deaths and injuries at work. Working on offshore mining platforms would obviously be incredibly dangerous. Everything should be undertaken to bring consistency to offshore and onshore working conditions and to ensure that workers are part of a tripartism arrangement between industry, government and workers and workers' representatives to achieve that.

 

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