The Guardian November 28, 2001


Unions hail industrial manslaughter law

by Peter Mac

Victorian employers have reacted with rage at the Bracks Labor Government's 
proposed new industrial manslaughter legislation, which was tabled in the 
Victorian Parliament last week. The legislation provides for fines of up to 
$5 million for companies found guilty of negligence leading to the death of 
an employee, and fines of $180,000 or jail terms of up to two years for 
company directors or senior officers found guilty of similar offences.

Union leaders have hailed the initiative as ground-breaking and long 
overdue, and hundreds of union delegates rallied outside the Victorian 
Parliament House last Thursday in support of the Bill.

Leigh Hubbard, Secretary of the Victorian Trades hall council said that 
"... this new law ... will strengthen health and safety standards in this 
state by compelling senior management to ensure that they are meeting their 
existing obligations to provide safe workplaces. Employers who are doing 
the right thing have nothing to fear from this legislation and should be 
supporting it. It places no extra burdens on companies who take safety 
seriously."

The Bill was introduced in the wake of a number of work-related deaths, 
including the disastrous Longford gas explosion which resulted in two 
deaths, a series of horrific injuries and massive economic disruption 
throughout the State.

In that case, despite the owners Esso-BHP being found at fault by a 
subsequent commision of inquiry, they received only a $2 million fine, 
which many union leaders felt did not reflect the gravity of the offence.

By contrast, although laws against manslaughter have been in operation for 
centuries in other fields, business leaders have vowed to fight their 
introduction into the world of industry.

The Victorian director of the Australian Industry Group, Mr Paul Fenelly, 
described the new law as "aimed at retribution, rather than prevention and 
education". He complained bitterly that the "considerations" of employers 
had been ignored by the Bracks Government.

The Coalition members of parliament are expected to try to block the 
passage of the legislation through the Upper House of state parliament this 
week. Meanwhile, the legislation has been sparking great interest, and many 
other State Governments are considering introducing similar laws.

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