In all fairness, many employers are actually doing their best to comply with work health and safety regimes. The problem, however, lies in the fact that they have to comply with up to eight different work health and safety regulations, especially when they have operations in various jurisdictions across Australia.
In the face of all the red tape and complications of this existing system, there is a need for new, streamlined and national work safety laws, and that is exactly what a bill filed before Parliament aims to do once it becomes a law.
Existing work health and safety system to be altered
Major changes to the existing work health and safety system are to be expected once Parliament passes the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Legislation Amendment Bill 2014. The biggest beneficiaries of these changes, should they take place, are organisations who have operations and employ people in multiple states or territories of Australia, as their WHS obligations will be streamlined considerably.
The Senate committee that gave the bill the green light said it best, that new WHS laws are “necessary to significantly reduce compliance costs, simplify processes, and boost productivity and efficiency for businesses that operate and employ across multiple jurisdictions”.
Complicated, taxing and varied WHS regulations
Not a few employers, especially large-scale organisations, have been bemoaning the fact that they have no choice but to comply with the rather complicated, undoubtedly taxing and very varied regulations in different jurisdictions across the country. These differing regulations force them to come up with policies and procedures that vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction just so they could satisfy safety standards. Ultimately, that can prove to be a bit puzzling for say, long-haul drivers, whose compliance with safety standards will certainly change every now and then when they drive from one point in the country to another.
Then there’s the fact that few of them actually manage to secure self-insurance under the Comcare scheme, as well as coverage under the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act, because they can’t satisfactorily fulfil legislative requirements. At the root of this issue is the “competition” test, which basically gives licences only to current and privatised Commonwealth authorities and their competition. As a result, organisations with operations across states that don’t have that licence have no choice but to comply with up to eight varying WHS regulatory regimes, which have been proven to be burdensome over the years.
All of that will come to an end once this SRC Bill becomes a law. Instead of the widely perceived to be subjective and irrelevant “competition” test, a new “national employer” test will be implemented. To hurdle this test and become eligible to self-insure under the Comcare scheme, a multi-state organisation will need to be a self-insurer, a self-insured employer in at least two Australian jurisdictions, and comply with workers’ compensation laws in at least two Australian jurisdictions. Passing this “national employer” test will also qualify them for coverage under the Commonwealth WHS Act, regardless of where they operate.
What we really need is a nationally consistent WHS regime being run by a single national regulator, and that is what the SRC Bill intends to do if it passes legislation.