01:30 pm, Tuesday 3 January, 2012
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) encourages Australian workers to take advantage of new laws by appointing safety representatives as the harmonised WHS laws have taken effect in most part of the country during the weekend.
A campaign called “Speak Up” has been launched by Australian unions to “inform workers of their rights, and employers of their obligations under harmonised health and safety laws. The campaign aims to make sure that workers have a say in keeping their workplaces safe and healthy.
According to ACTU Assistant Secretary Michael Borowick, it is important that workers fully understand that under the new health and safety system, they will have enhanced rights to choose their own health and safety representatives.
“Workers need to know that when they are confronted by a health or safety issue in their workplace, they don’t have to deal with it alone,” said Mr Borowick.
“They have an iron-clad right, under law, to elect their own health and safety representatives. These reps act as watchdogs within the workplace, making employers comply with the law well before regulators have to become involved.
“Employers who interfere with the work of health and safety reps, or refuse to allow them to represent their workmates, are breaking the law.
“Importantly, unions can offer a wealth of expertise, know-how and training to back up those reps, and make sure they can perform the roles they have been elected to, and to provide workers with assistance to make their own workplaces safer.
“Health and safety is a fundamental industrial issue and a major priority for unions, who have a long and proud history of delivering healthier and safer workplaces for Australians, frequently in the face of employer and business resistance. Over the last 160 years, unions have campaigned tirelessly to reduce injury and illness within the workplace, and many of the current rights and conditions have been fought for and won by the unions.
“It is no coincidence that workplaces with a union presence are far more likely to be safer than those without unions. Collectively, with the support of a union, workers are far more able to speak up about health and safety than they can individually.”
In addition to the Speak Up campaign, a new website which will provide information for workers and OHS reps on common health and safety issues, rights and obligations, workplace safety tips, news and legislation. For more information, please visit www.safeatwork.org.au.