Work Health and Safety & Workers' Compensation

Recommendation Summary

  • Continue to fund Safe Work Australia to provide effective policy and services.
  • Fund the Australian Chamber to provide information and representation to Australian employers, within and beyond its network.

Safe Work Australia (SWA) - Social Partner Funding Arrangements

Safe Work Australia (SWA) is responsible for the development of policies to improve work health and safety and workers’ compensation. SWA is jointly funded by the Commonwealth, state and territory governments through an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA).

The governing body of SWA brings together representatives of state and territory jurisdictions, employers and unions. As a SWA Member, the Australian Chamber, helps determine the operational and corporate priorities of SWA.

Social partner engagement is fundamental to SWA delivering on its statutory functions.

If SWA is to deliver sound and workable WHS and workers’ compensation policy, it is essential business be fully represented and able to properly contribute its ideas, input and experience.

The safety jurisdiction generates demands for input and consultation that exceed the resources that peak bodies can allocate to it.

Government previously recognised this and sought to partner with employer organisations and unions at the peak level to secure the consultation input (and distribution of information) it needs to properly and effectively regulate safety and compensation in line with community expectations.

For 30 years (1984-2014) the Australian Chamber and ACTU were funded by the Commonwealth to provide a policy and regulatory interface between employers/unions and SWA (most recently $375,000 per year for three years). This was a proven mechanism to facilitate the dialogue and social partner engagement SWA needs to do its work.

The effectiveness of SWA relies on strong input from all stakeholders, particularly from business. It would be in the interests of everyone involved for the Australian Chamber and ACTU to again be funded for this work to allow wider and deeper representation of industry and worker views and the best possible input to Australian efforts to reduce safety incidents. Restoring this funding would also be consistent with Australia’s obligations under ILO standards and COAG Principles for Best Practice Regulation.

The case for again facilitating input to government on safety has been strengthened by the sheer volume of work being undertaken in this area. Since funding ceased in 2014 there has been a COAG Review into the implementation of model WHS legislation, a statutory review of SWA’s role and functions, numerous state and territory WHS and Workers’ Compensation legislative reviews, a revision of the Australian WHS Strategy and an inaugural National Return To Work Strategy. Most recently, we have seen the first review since implementation of model WHS.

These reviews recommend changes, which again demand employer engagement and input, well beyond the capacities of Chamber funded staffing in this area. It is also critical that there be fit-forpurpose communication mechanisms and implementation support, to complement and advance policy. This is what the previous grant facilitated and it is one of the areas where reduced capacities have reduced services, in particular to support the representation of smaller businesses. The Enabling Safe and Healthy Workplaces for Small Business report confirms the need help to translate WHS regulations into their own context and help in implementing them.

Regulators also need to know more about the management of WHS within SMEs, particularly microSMEs, and the effectiveness of regulation in enhancing organisation performance. Greater capacity for policy development, consultation and engagement is crucial for improving WHS practices and regulation in SMEs, and we know the previous grant arrangements facilitated this.

Renewal of funding for the Australian Chamber would allow them to not only consult more broadly and represent industries views at the SWA table, it would allow us to address policy issues SWA are unable to cover and share this with Members. Furthermore, we would be in a position to turn policy and research produced by SWA into practical and meaningful actions and outcomes in more workplaces / for more working people.

The Australian Chamber proposes that the federal government reinstate the contract arrangements for the 2019/2020 – 2021/2022 period to enable the Australian Chamber to provide a coordinated industry response and input into the achievement of the governments objectives as set out in the SWA terms of reference, to assist businesses and particularly small business with ongoing WHS and Workers’ Compensation regulatory challenges and to pioneer practical and meaningful programs to address emerging issues by turning theory into practice.

Policy Recommendation: 

  • Continue to fund Safe Work Australia to provide effective policy and services.
  • Fund the Australian Chamber to provide information and representation to Australian employers, within and beyond its network.