Unions succeed in push for nationally harmonised industrial manslaughter legislation
The peak union body, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), has succeeded in influencing the Albanese government to support nationally harmonised industrial manslaughter legislation.
Following a meeting earlier this week, Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke has indicated that the Government intended to determine the scope of an industrial manslaughter offence under federal WHS laws, which would include a National model penalty of $18 million for a body corporate and 20-year’s imprisonment for an individual.
The offence of ‘industrial manslaughter’ has existed for several years already in the Labor-held states of Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia, as well as the Northern Territory and the ACT. More recently, the newly elected Labor government in South Australia is considering feedback on its draft Work Health and Safety (Industrial Manslaughter) Amendment Bill following a period of public consultation.
In New South Wales, the death of a person at a workplace may constitute manslaughter, where a workplace death is caused by ‘gross negligence or reckless conduct’.
In October 2018, a Senate Inquiry into industrial deaths handed down recommendations that included the establishment of a national system of uniform Industrial Manslaughter laws. However, in 2021, the recommendations did not achieve the required support of two-thirds of workplace safety ministers.
It is understood that unions met the current Workplace Relations Minister, Tony Burke, on 28 February 2023 to reinvigorate the push for nationally harmonised legislation, which will receive sufficient backing from the majority Labor-held states. There has been no official response from the Minister.
Employers can be found guilty of industrial manslaughter if they have been found to cause the death of a worker in their business negligently. The maximum penalties for industrial manslaughter currently vary in each state but can include both fines and imprisonment for individuals and fines for body corporates.
Although the legislation is relatively new, several convictions have already been recorded throughout Australia.
In March 2022, a Gympie business owner became the first individual to be convicted in Queensland of industrial manslaughter and was sentenced to five years imprisonment suspended after eighteen months for an operational period of five years. The case against the owner centred around allegations that on 3 July 2019, he had negligently caused the death of a volunteer worker by operating a forklift that was overloaded during the transport of a generator. The forklift tipped over, fatally striking the worker.
In 2021, a Western Australian company director was sentenced to two years and two months in jail after pleading guilty to gross negligence leading to the death of a 25-year worker and the serious injury of another worker. In addition to the company director’s imprisonment, the company was fined an amount of $550,000.
The workplace fatality arose from two workers installing roof sheets on a large machinery shed they were building on a farm without appropriate safety control measures in place. The subsequent investigation revealed that either a strong wind or ‘willy-wally’ lifted a single roof sheet from the nearby stack of sheets, causing both employees to fall from a significant height.
Directors, Project Managers and CFOs need a plan, need to know who to call and need a relationship with specialist WHS lawyers. Workforce Advisory can assist you with an introduction, challenge your processes and assist with pressure testing your workplace arrangements.
For queries about safety, industrial manslaughter, or other employment questions, please contact Dean Cameron at Workforce Advisory Lawyers – We Know Employment Law on 1300 925 529, 0417 622 178 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: This information is provided as general advice on workplace relations and employment law. It does not constitute legal advice, and it is always advisable to seek further information regarding specific workplace issues. Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.