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OH&S work changes too late for NSW

June 10th, 2011

HUNDREDS of companies across NSW will face charges under Labor’s former occupational health and safety laws despite Barry O’Farrell changing them last month.

The O’Farrell government will not intervene in 67 cases involving 170 small businesses and major companies before the Industrial Relations Commission when his workplace reforms passed parliament.

Those firms were charged under a system whereby employers are seen as guilty until proven innocent if a worker suffers a workplace injury.

Finance Minister Greg Pearce last night refused to support retrospective help for the firms before the IRC.

As it was, Mr O’Farrell’s reforms were diluted in the upper house by the Shooters and the Christian Democrats. Mr Pearce warned last night that funding promised by the federal government if the state passed harmonised OH&S laws had been put at risk by the upper house.

Mr Pearce last night blamed former union heavy and Labor leader John Robertson for the weakened legislation.

"The amendments that have enabled the unions to retain the right to prosecute is out of step with the harmonised legislation and could impact the promised $144 million in federal government grants for harmonising occupational health and safety laws," Mr Pearce said.

"John Robertson should be held to account. NSW is now the only state whereby unions retain the right to prosecute."

NSW Business Chamber president Roger Hood said the new laws, aimed at giving employers more rights before the Industrial Relations Commission, were not perfect. The unions can no longer act as "bounty hunters" and claim a 50 per cent refund for prosecuting employers on behalf of their members.

But they can still target employers and drag them through the legal system.

"It should be, and will be under the new Act, a shared responsibility," Mr Hood said.

"There are some areas where employers do want clarification from government.

"We are for example, concerned about regime picking between the courts and the IRC and do want some clarification how it will exactly work.

"We have also concerns about inconsistencies with appeal rights."

Malcolm Davis, an expert in workplace law who represents the city’s biggest employers, said it would be difficult to postpone current cases because they were prosecuted under the previous legislation.