Greens support worker's rights and safety

Today Abigail spoke in Parliament against attempts to diminish worker's rights to democratic representation through the Work Health and Safety (Mines and Petroleum Sites) Amendment Bill 2022.

Abigail said:

l 2022. The Greens will oppose the bill. It is a classic piece of Trojan horse legislation. It has a bundle of uncontentious minor amendments in the form of penalty amounts and updating of definitions in an attempt to sail through without causing a ripple. But bundled up within the bill lies its true purpose, which is a gross and undemocratic assault on workers' rights to democratic representation.

This style of assault on our basic rights is becoming the norm for this Government, which has now grown accustomed to ramming through assaults on our basic rights in unscrutinised regulations, last‑minute late‑night sittings and other shamefaced acts of deception. The Liberal-Nationals Government is wholly captured and hopelessly compromised by the prerogatives of big businesses and sees its interests as one and the same as the profit interests of its big business and fossil fuel donor mates. It has an ideological opposition to the very existence of democratically elected worker representatives that make up the union movement. Today it has once again shown its anti-democratic inclinations as it attempts to crack down on this most fundamental right to worker elected representation.

Schedules 1 [8] and 1 [9] to the bill seek to grant the Minister the right to reject the legitimate election of a worker elected health and safety representative. It places no limits on the Minister's discretion, and we know this Government would gladly exercise no limit in its draconian repression of workers' rights. Fundamentally, the Minister should have no say in who the workers elect to represent themselves. These are democratically elected worker representatives. It is totally inappropriate for any government of any stripe, but particularly or this ideologically motivated anti-union, anti-worker Government, to be intruding on the democratic process.

I note that there has been what I hope is confusion of some parties in this place. The discussion paper released last year on the proposed amendments to the Act—which are now in the bill before the House—called for submissions by 17 May 2021. There was a proposed recommendation for which submissions were being sought. Recommendation 8 proposed that section 28 of the Act be amended to allow the Minister to appoint "additional persons as industry health and safety representatives if they meet the eligibility requirements". That is very different to what we now have in this bill, and members need to reflect on what that means. Basically, in addition to the industry health and safety representatives that had been selected by the unions, the Minister might appoint another person.

In response, unions put in their submissions. For instance, the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union [CFMMEU] raised concerns about having one of these industry health and safety representatives effectively not nominated by the union in the ordinary way, but in the context of it being an additional representative, the union was not overly concerned. However, what we have ended up with in this bill is the right of the Minister to veto someone who the CFMMEU, for instance, has put up as a representative. Whereas previously we had a provision where the Minister would appoint somebody who had been nominated by the union and met the eligibility requirements under the Act, we now have schedule 1 [8] adding a new section 28 (2) (c), which states:

, and—

that "and" is very important—

(c) the person is, in the Minister's opinion, a suitable person to be appointed as an industry safety and health representative.

This is the right of the Minister to override the democratic processes of the union. This is an extraordinary provision and I cannot believe we have it in front of the House today. It goes on to state in schedule 1 [9]:

(2AA) For the purpose of determining under subclause (2)(c) whether a person is suitable to be appointed as an industry safety and health representative, the Minister may make enquiries about the person the Minister considers appropriate, including—

(a) a nationwide criminal record check, and

(b) other relevant probity checks—

And so on. The Minister could ding this person on other grounds, such as their not acting in the way the Minister would want a union representative to behave. These are really awful provisions. They are very anti-union and anti‑democratic. I sincerely hope that they are not used in a way that unduly fetters the operations of union officials and that they do not turn out to be used in the broad, unaccountable way that they have been drafted. The Greens will move an amendment at the Committee stage to remove those two sections. I put on record the deep concern The Greens have with again seeing this sort of legislation coming through and being supported by most of the other parties in this place without them really thinking about the impacts and the precedent it sets for future legislation.


The full debate can be found here.

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