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Late last week the Western Australian Government tabled the draft Work Health and Safety Bill 2014 in Parliament, and I’m joined by Eleanor Jewell who is a Special Counsel in the Workplace Relations Group at Allens; Eleanor thanks for joining me.
Thanks for speaking to me.
Eleanor firstly what do these proposed new laws look like?
Look they largely mirror the model laws that have been developed through the National Safety Law Harmonisation process, and to a large extent those laws reflect concepts and duties which employers should be quite familiar with and are already in place. There are some clarifications of some obligations, so for example the obligation for multiple duty holders to consult about their obligations, there are some significant changes though and one of these is the much more onerous obligations which will be placed on offices and senior managers to actually positively exercise due diligence to ensure the corporation’s complied with its duties. And this is something that doesn’t exist in the laws that are in place now and really will need to have some steps put in place to satisfy those obligations.
And are there any significant differences between the model laws and the Green Bill?
Well there are, the WA Government has long indicated that whilst a lot of the Bill would be accepted or the model laws would be accepted there were a few areas that it didn’t consider acceptable. One of these was union right of entry, which the government has long said is adequately dealt with under the existing industrial relations legislation. The second one is the health and safety representative’s ability to direct the cessation of work and the government has said that this should be an area that can be dealt with by individuals but shouldn’t be within the control of health and safety representatives. The third is the reverse onerous of proof in discrimination matters, which it’s argued would make it too onerous for employers or other duty holders to satisfy. The fourth which is really interesting is penalty levels, which many have said in WA are too high under the harmonised laws, interestingly the laws that or the Bill that’s been introduced actually reflects much higher penalty levels than we currently have under the existing legislation, so it will be interesting to see what happens in the consultation process in relation to this because a lot of industry groups have already voiced their concerns about the penalty levels that are contained within the draft Bill.
So Eleanor what can we expect next?
Well it’s been released as a Green Bill which means there’s a period for consultation with industry and other interested groups. This will continue until 30 January 2015, and all previous indications are that there will be a harmonised Bill for work health and safety for the resources sector released by early 2015 as well, so it may be the changes to the draft general Bill will be reflected in that resources specific Bill as well, but it will be a bit of watch this space. I think we can certainly expect some major changes in the resources sector in terms of the legislation that exists.