Vic still waiting on industrial manslaughter legislation

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Vic still waiting on industrial manslaughter legislation

The landmark fine levied on oil giant Esso in the Victorian Supreme Court this week for a gas explosion that killed two workers and injured eight others has put the spotlight back on the Bracks’ Government’s industrial manslaughter legislation.

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The landmark fine levied on oil giant Esso in the Victorian Supreme Court this week for a gas explosion that killed two workers and injured eight others has put the spotlight back on the Bracks’ Government’s industrial manslaughter legislation.

The proposed changes - which planned to levy fines of up to $5million on corporations, and a jail term of up to five years plus $180,000 fine for directors and executives - were first produced in draft form more than a year ago, due for introduction in the winter session of Parliament (see 12/2000).

They introduced a new offence of industrial manslaughter, and more than doubled fines which could be imposed on companies and individuals under the Workplace Health and Safety Act.

But employers protested that they had not had enough time to comment, so from October the Government called for submissions from the community, unions and employers.

That process is now feeding in to final legislation, expected to be ready for introduction in the Spring Session of parliament, coming up in three weeks.

Premier Steve Bracks was quick to comment after yesterday’s ruling on the Esso penalties (see 168/2001) that his Government would increase penalties under the new legislation. This came amid claims from Australian Workers’ Union Victorian secretary Bill Shorten that the $2 million fine amounted to only a ‘speeding fine’ for the company, which makes $1 million a day from operations in the Bass Strait.

But a Government spokesperson said the legislation was still not finalised, and could not comment on whether the tough new fines proposed last year would remain, or be changed. He said the legislation was ‘not ready at the moment’ but as soon as it was finalised, more details would be forthcoming.

David Gregory from the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry told WorkplaceInfo that he had written to the Attorney-General Rob Hulls and WorkCover Minister Bob Cameron urging them to consult before the legislation entered the public domain and became ‘embroiled in the political process’, but had received no response.

Nor had he received any response to VECCI’s written submission, apart from a discussion paper in February which he said merely ‘rehashed’ written submissions from employer groups and unions.

Gregory said VECCI had received advice from criminal barristers that some of the tests in the draft legislation ran contrary to those that existed elsewhere in the criminal system - citing the reverse onus of proof whereby an employer was presumed to be guilty if a company was guilty. He said VECCI was also concerned about provisions concerning whether an employer had known of a breach ‘or ought to have known’.

‘So we were looking at new broad tests at the same time as increased fines,’ he said.

Gregory said while employers were concerned about last year’s draft legislation, ‘we don’t have a closed mind about anything the Government wants to put up’ this year. But as he did not know what detail the legislation contained, he could not comment at this stage on a VECCI reaction.

WorkplaceInfo’s attempts to contact the Victorian Trades Hall Council about its submission on the legislation were unsuccessful.

 

 

 
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