Jun 14

Adverse action: Visy shamed for unfairly targeting AMWU safety rep

A VisyThe AMWU has won a major victory for workers’ health and safety in a case where packaging giant Visy was condemned by a Federal Court judge for persecuting an AMWU delegate for honestly doing his duty as an OH&S representative.

Visy threatened Jon Zwart with dismissal after he put OHS “tag” notices on two unsafe forklifts at its Coburg can factory in 2011 because their beepers were not loud enough, consistent with the company’s own “zero tolerance” safety campaign.

The court agreed with the AMWU position that the company’s attitude to Mr Zwart was totally unjustified.

Justice Bernard Murphy found the result of an “independent” inquiry the company instigated into the worker’s conduct was neither impartial or truly independent of Visy mangement.

Justice Murphy criticised evidence by Visy’s plant operations manager Robin Street as “unreliable,” finding he should have never suspended Jon Zwart from work, investigated his actions or later issued him with a final warning notice.

The judge found Mr Street’s “prevarication and the contortion his evidence involved, has led me to conclude he was not frank with the court.”

Mr Street had suspended Mr Zwart and ordered the “independent” investigation because he claimed the AMWU member was “uncooperative” by insisting safety regulations be followed.

When Mr Zwart rejected a company proposal that forklift drivers honk their horn and turn their head when reversing as unsafe, Mr Street accused him of trying to disrupt production. Mr Zwart’s stance was later endorsed by two outside safety experts.

Disruption to work turned out be minimal with the forklifts adjusted with louder beepers later on the day of the incident, August 8, 2011.

AMWU Victorian Secretary Steve Dargavel hailed the decision as a victory for all workers.

He said it proved that unions were able to take legal action under the Fair Work Act to remedy a health and safety matter, reducing reliance in Victoria on WorkSafe which has the lowest prosecution rate in the nation.

Mr Zwart said the case had proven the rights of workplace health and safety representatives to disagree with employers without suffering discrimination.

“I think it’s a big lesson for standing your ground when you believe you’re right and standing up to bullying,” he said.

“I’m forever grateful to the union for backing me up.”

The AMWU’s lawyer in the case, Slater and Gordon’s Brad Annson, said Justice Murphy’s decision confirms OH&S care as a workplace right. It means:

*employers should not regard an OH&S rep as un-cooperative just because his or her opinion does not agree with theirs. Bosses should accept that an independent OH&S rep has a duty of care to fellow workers under OH&S law.

*employers cannot evade their possible liability for wrongly imposing disciplinary actions by engaging an external consultant to investigate an employee.

*OH&S reps have protections under the Fair Work Act, provided they act with a genuine concern for safety. This applies whether or not those concerns are ultimately proved to be justified.

*wrongly suspending an employee was adverse action because it deprived a person of the satisfaction and dignity of work, with the final written warning jeopardising the security of Mr Zwart’s future employment.

The court found that Visy had engaged in adverse action against Mr Zwart, leaving it open to a maximum $33,000 fine on each of three breaches of the Fair Work Act.

Mr Street also faces two potential $6600 fines for his conduct.

The penalties will be determined by the judge in an upcoming hearing.

http://www.amwu.asn.au/read-article/news-detail/1177/Visy-shamed-in-health-and-safety-victory-for-members/

Jun 14

Workplace Bullying Draft Code of Practice – complete our short survey

 

Stop-bullying-now

Safe Work Australia recently released a revised draft Model Code of practice on Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying (May 2013 version). The Draft Code replaces the previous draft Model Code of Practice on bullying that was released in late 2011 and withdrawn for further consideration following significant public backlash and critical comment.

The Draft Code is open for public comment until 15 July 2013.

What is a Code of Practice and why is it important?

Codes of Practice apply in States and Territories that have implemented harmonised work health and safety legislation (at this stage, harmonised laws apply throughout Australia except in Victoria and Western Australia). They provide practical guidance for people who owe duties under the legislation to achieve standards of health, safety and welfare.

They are also admissible in court proceedings. For example, a court may regard a Code of Practice as evidence of what is known about a hazard, risk or control and may also rely on it when determining whether the duty holder has met the required standard of care.

A Model Code of Practice is prepared by Safe Work Australia and applies when formally adopted that Code.

The Injured Workers Support Network along with other interested groups will be making public comment on the Draft Code and we need your feedback
This survey will only take a few minutes to complete and we thank you for taking the time to assist us

Click here to complete survey: surveymonkey.com/s/LFL9BYW

Jun 14

NSW Minister Greg Pearce takes stress leave

532035-greg-pearce

NSW Minister Greg Pearce takes leave

Should the Minister for Finance & Services have to undergo a work capacity test while on stress leave? Although Greg Pearce may not be fit to perform his Ministerial duties – under his own legislation he would still have some capacity for work.

THE NSW finance minister has requested a month’s stress leave after a report found he breached ministerial travel expense guidelines on a trip to Canberra.

Greg Pearce has also apologised for his behaviour in parliament almost two weeks ago, when he was ejected for being drunk.

“My behaviour on that evening was wrong, I am not proud of it and I have rightly been admonished by the premier,” he said.

He’s asked the premier for a month’s leave for stress and exhaustion.

Department of Premier and Cabinet boss Chris Eccles found Mr Pearce breached ministerial travel guidelines during his private trip to Canberra almost two weeks ago.

Premier Barry O’Farrell ordered an investigation after his minister took a taxpayer-funded trip to the capital on the same day as reports emerged that he was ejected from parliament on suspicion of being drunk.

As a media frenzy erupted, Mr Pearce travelled to Canberra to attend a function hosted by Liberal party powerbroker Michael Photios.

While his office said the minister was off sick, Mr Pearce reportedly said he was visiting a housing development and his office must have been confused.

He later said he had travelled for a private function and then pulled out, even though his flights and accommodation were booked by the state government.

Mr O’Farrell said there had been a minor breach of ministerial guidelines that amounted to less than $200.

“I think what he has gone through over the last two weeks is punishment enough,” he said.

“We are all human… mistakes will from time to time be made.”

Mr O’Farrell said the report had also identified confusion regarding the ministerial travel guidelines.

However, it found Mr Pearce had booked his flight and accommodation on his private trip to the capital in two breaches of the guidelines.

Jun 14

Would you hire someone with a mental illness?

Mental Health

We know very well about the effects that negative stereotyping can have when it comes to the disclosure of an injury or illness to any potential employer.

Would you hire someone with a mental illness?

Bernie Mitchell is a small business owner and real estate agent. He says he would have no problem hiring someone with a mental illness in his business Focus Property Management in Sydney.

That’s largely because he knows what it’s like to be in their shoes. Mitchell, 38, suffers from bipolar disorder. He is also author of Bipolar: a path to acceptance, about his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and how he learned to manage his illness. As a father of four, Mitchell wanted to show it’s possible to balance running a business with raising a family, all while managing his condition.

He says he would hire someone with a mental illness “as long as it is managed responsibly”. Mitchell believes: “It’s important for everyone to know that you can get there in the end and triumph over your mental illness.”

When he has previously hired someone with a mental illness, he was proactive in supporting them. “On becoming aware of their illness I mentored them so that they could empower themselves to take the necessary action and ownership of their recovery plan,” he says. “Given that I had suffered from mental illness, I supported them rather like a coach offering encouragement. We would meet up regularly to check in on progress and any issues that presented in the workplace. In one instance, the role was modified to accommodate the sufferer.”

However, is this the responsibility of small business owners?

Melissa Jenkins (not her real name) doesn’t think so. Jenkins, 40, runs a fashion store in Melbourne. “Life as a small business owner already has so many challenges,” she says. “I know it’s not politically correct to say this but I really don’t think I would hire someone with a mental illness. I wouldn’t even put them on a short list of applicants. I don’t have the skills to help someone through their mental illness. I need highly functioning people who aren’t going to give me problems with absenteeism and who can perform their jobs well.

“Of course, I understand that life isn’t always easy. My staff go through difficult times and I try to support them because I care about them. But I don’t want to invite potential issues into the workplace if I don’t have to. I’m already working myself to the bone. I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with more challenges. So if there’s a choice between hiring a quality candidate with a mental illness and a quality candidate who doesn’t, I’m going to pick the latter for sure.”

Susan Bower, 41, owns Dressed for Success, a Brisbane-based property styling business. Like Mitchell, she would hire someone with a mental illness. “As a business owner that suffers from depression myself, I know that with treatment, people with mental illnesses can function just as well as anybody else.

“Mental illness is now emerging as a more common illness, so the likelihood of employing someone with a mental illness is much higher whether they disclose it or not.”

If you’re applying for a job, should you disclose that you have a mental illness?

Says Mitchell: “It’s important for everyone to know that you can get there in the end and triumph over your mental illness.”

Careers counsellor Jane Lowder from Max Coaching says the decision for job candidates regarding whether or not they will disclose a mental illness to a potential employer is one that needs to be carefully considered. “If the mental health condition will not affect their ability to do the role then the candidate is not legally required to disclose it. In this instance, the matter of self-care should come into consideration. A close read of the potential employer’s workplace diversity policy might reveal that support structures and workplace adjustments are available, and therefore an open discussion of any mental health matters upfront may see a new employee receive valued assistance in their role.”

However, this frank discussion does carry some inherent risks. “This potential benefit would need to be weighed against the risk of negative stereotyping or being overlooked for either the role or development opportunities down the track.The ultimate decision about disclosing, when not obligated to do so, will be unique to each individual and role, and so discussing it with a trusted GP, psychologist or career counsellor may help in weighing the options.”

The Fair Work Ombudsman declined to comment on this issue. However, its website states: “Under the Fair Work Act 2009, discrimination is disadvantaging someone in the workplace because of their…physical or mental disability.” It then provides the example of this as “being rejected from a job during the hiring process.”

However, it’s fair to say it would be hard to prove if an employer did not shortlist a candidate during the hiring process because of their mental illness.

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Meanwhile, small business owners remain divided on the issue. Some are empathetic. But others, like Jenkins, say it’s not a wise decision. “I know I’m not supposed to feel this way. But I have enough on my plate as it is. It’s already a challenge to manage my existing staff. And I know there are enough people in the world without a mental illness who can fill the roles I need. Why would I hire someone who has one?”

Would you hire someone with a mental illness? Has this had a positive or negative impact on your business?

Jun 14

Newcastle audiologist concerned by workers compensation changes

Hearing

Concerns for hearing compo loss

A Newcastle audiologist says close to 40 per cent of his clients will be affected by changes to the workers compensation scheme.

The amendments mean many of the Hunter’s former steelworkers suffering hearing loss from workplace noise will no longer be entitled to free hearing aid upgrades, repairs and batteries.

Coal miners and emergency service workers are not included in the changes.

Audiologist Nick Blackwell says it will be extremely difficult for those affected

“What we know happens when you have an untreated hearing loss is people don’t communicate with others,” he said.

“And they retreat and they – all sorts of other side effects can happen you know, you know, you can develop mental health issues like depression and anxiety because you’re having difficulty communicating with others.”

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-06-08/concerns-for-hearing-compo-loss/4741760

Jun 13

We need an international approach to decrease the costs of mental health

Template

Why mental health matters

The Herald-Lateral Economics Index of Australia’s Wellbeing estimates the cost of mental illness to Australia has reached $190 billion a year, or about 12 per cent of economic output.

Globally, the social and economic costs of mental illness are enormous, with international health bodies estimating that 13 per cent of the total global disease burden is due to mental disorders. Although they are closely linked to physical disorders and can affect the prognosis of heart disease, diabetes, and cancers, mental disorders rarely receive equal attention.

Recent milestones have provided an unfamiliar wave of optimism. The World Health Assembly agreed in Geneva last month on new public health measures, including a comprehensive mental health action plan for the next seven years. A week earlier, Commonwealth health ministers endorsed the secretariat’s report ‘Mental Health: Towards Economic and Social Inclusion’ – the first time Commonwealth countries have supported a plan to improve mental health.

Perhaps the biggest advance, however, has been closer to home, with no fanfare and little recognition. China’s first national mental health law was approved early last month by the National People’s Congress. Whether this new law achieves its goal of minimising abuse and ending unjustified compulsory hospitalisation remains to be seen. Nevertheless China has covered a fifth of the world’s population by legislation that aims – for the first time in its history – to protect the human rights of people with mental illness.

This remarkable step is part of a scientific and public health sea change in Asia that is underappreciated in Australia and the West. As part of the ‘Asian Century’, China and other countries in Asia are increasingly creating and developing corridors of innovation and networks of research and development where Australia is not prominent and in some cases is absent.

Disappointingly, our health and science leadership still largely has its gaze fixed on the United States and Europe. This is despite the countries of Asia last year surpassing the Americas in research and development investments ($518 billion vs $512 billion).

As potential opportunities in research and development rapidly slip away, the questions needing to be answered are: where are there windows still open, where can Australia build on its strengths and be valued as a collaborator and partner in Asia, and what models of working that may guide further development in health?

One area where we share common objectives and mutual interest is in mental health promotion, research and treatment. National governments are increasingly recognising that mental ill health carries not just a burden on individuals but also on their nations’ economies and security. The need for further investment in mental health to build resilience in the face of increasing prevalence of natural and man-made disasters, including the effects of climate change, has become a pressing global concern.

Asia Australia Mental Health – a consortium of St Vincent’s Mental Health, The University of Melbourne’s Department of Psychiatry, and Asialink – has been building partnerships with mental health leaders and their governments in the Asia Pacific for more than 10 years. AAMH has worked with China as it attempts to provide mental health solutions for its vast population. It is also working with mental health leaders from the Sub-Mekong to establish a Sub-Mekong Region Mental Health Research Training Program. And it has worked with China, Cambodia and the Solomon Islands to protect the mental health of their people following natural disasters, including the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

Recognising that the global mental health crisis is too big for one country or sector to deal with alone, we are building cohesion through a multilateral project that includes mental health leaders from 19 Asia Pacific countries. This project acknowledges the enormous treatment gaps and lack of appropriate services available in most of our partner countries but focuses on sharing strengths and best practices. In both high-resourced to deprived settings, the network encourages hybrid solutions and new ways of thinking.

For Australia, such a regional network helps us to extend our understanding of mental health. We are learning through our collaboration and engagement with Asian counterparts new and perhaps more effective ways to meaningfully contribute to the mental health of all Australians, including indigenous people and the growing numbers of our population who are of Asian backgrounds. These include not only culturally appropriate treatments but also empowering and strengthening the role of people with mental ill health in developing and implementing laws, policy and services.

Being part of a multi-lateral partnership gives Australia a much stronger voice as we advocate for greater recognition of mental health across regional groupings and global health architecture. Early next month we will share a platform with our Chinese colleagues at an APEC health meeting in Medan, Indonesia, as part of a coordinated effort to deal with the growing regional crisis of mental ill health. Our Australia-China partnership will be presented as a model in discussing what could guide an APEC roadmap to reduce the regional burden of mental health challenges.

Associate Professor Chee Ng, co-director of AAMH at The University of Melbourne, prepared the Commonwealth Secretariat’s mental health report presented last month.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/time-to-put-our-heads-together-on-mental-health-20130613-2o67u.html#ixzz2W63HLCOb

Jun 13

Win for apprentice sacked day after lodging bullying complaint

Bullying keyboardAdelaide | A car repairer has been ordered to pay compensation to an apprentice after work supervisors called him “soft”, suggesting he should “go back and live with mum or become a hairdresser”.

While accepting that “it would be naïve to consider that “robust” language is not a feature of automotive workshops” the Industrial Relations Commission found the treatment of the Adelaide apprentice was “old fashioned” and did not fit contemporary standards of management practice.

“..but this is not uncommon in small businesses in certain industries,” the commission’s deputy president Karen Bartel conceded in the case of auto-electrical apprentice Guy Bentley and his employer Matlin Auto Pty Ltd.

In the hearings before the commission, Bentley claimed that he was sacked the day after he filed a complaint of bullying.

After seeking reinstatement and back pay, the apprentice was granted six weeks’ pay in an interim decision while the commission considered the question of re-employment.

“At this stage we are hesitant to return the apprentice to the workplace,” the commission’s decision states.

“While it is not beyond the realm of possibility that he and (supervisor) Mr Towns could establish a productive working relationship, the evidence tends to indicate otherwise.

“We are also cognisant of the bullying complaint currently with SafeWork SA, which includes a complaint against Mr Towns, and the apprentice’s diagnosis of stress/anxiety arising from his employment.”

The dispute dated back to November 2011 when Bentley transferred as a second year apprentice from Webb Auto Electrical (Webb) where he had started his training in mid-2010.

It started well, with evidence tendered to the commission showing the apprentice’s supervisors considered he had “a good aptitude for the work and is a capable apprentice when he puts his mind to it”.

“In relation to the apprentice’s performance on the job, Mr Towns and Mr Lepore stated that for the first three months or so he was diligent and enthusiastic about the work and performed to a high standard,” the commission heard.

“However, it was their evidence that after this initial period the apprentice developed a lazy attitude and adopted a careless approach to the work he undertook.”

When the supervisors made their concerns known, the relationship soured.

“Mr Towns stated that when he instructed him on the best way to proceed, the apprentice would challenge the advice and argue with him,” the court file shows.

“Mr Towns found this frustrating and believed it showed a lack of respect for his experience and authority.

“The apprentice stated that the employment relationship with Mr Towns soured after approximately six months, when Mr Towns attitude toward him changed.

“He submitted that Mr Towns would not deal with his queries, often walking away when he asked questions and that Mr Towns swore when directing him to perform work.

“For his part, Mr Towns indicated that there was only one occasion that he swore at the apprentice and this occurred on 27 November after the apprentice failed to respond.”

The evidence summary shows Towns agreed that it was likely that he raised his voice, telling the apprentice to “f#cking wake up”.

During this period, the apprentice, Guy Bentley was keeping notes, later used to file a bullying complaint citing treatment by his other supervisor Vince Lepore.

He detailed instances where he was told “I was no good at my job”, “that he may sign me off early so he can f#ck me off”, I was useless, he was “sick of my sh#t”, and that he wanted an auto electrical apprentice and doesn’t think he got one. “I was told in front of you, which is belittling and unacceptable,” the complaint stated.

Lepore stated in evidence that he was distressed over the complaint and at a subsequent meeting on 3 December 2012 he apologised to the apprentice for the manner in which he had spoken to him.

He stated that his apology related to two outbursts against the apprentice in October and November respectively.

The “robust” treatment was also acknowledged by the other supervisor, Neil Towns.

“All present at the meeting agree that Mr Towns said words to the following effect to the apprentice: that he was ‘soft’ and should go back and live with mum or become a hairdresser; that he refused to train him; and that the complaint will give the apprentice a bad name in the industry.

“Mr Towns’ evidence in the proceedings was that he did not regard this behaviour as bullying and that he was simply trying to convey that the apprentice should ‘toughen up’ and try to get along with people.

“On at least two occasions in the course of his evidence Mr Towns referred to his experience in the Army and that this sort of thing would have been shrugged off and laughed about later.

“He did however state that he did not intend to belittle the apprentice and apologised if this was the effect of his comments.”

The apprentice returned to work after the meeting – shortly after he was called to a further meeting where according to his notes, he was told that they couldn’t work with him anymore because of the complaint he made and he was asked to sign a form terminating the training contract. The apprentice refused and was told not to come to work again.

The commission noted that medical certificates dated 21 January and 4 February 2013 indicate that the apprentice suffered “stress/anxiety” but was fit to return to pre-injury duties.

“..without further medical evidence as to his condition and/or an outcome on the bullying complaint, the Panel finds itself currently constrained in providing the relief of re-employment sought by the apprentice.

“We require evidence that he is cleared to return to work by a medical practitioner who has been informed of the issues in the workplace and evidence as to the status of the bullying complaint in order to reach a final conclusion on the appropriate remedy.

“In the interim it is appropriate that the apprentice receive some compensation.

“..we will make an interim order for payment of an amount equal to six week’s pay, with the potential for some additional compensation depending on whether the contract of training is terminated and the circumstances of the apprentice since dismissal.”

The commission will continue to take further submissions from the parties.

http://indaily.com.au/news/2013/06/13/harden-up-regime-for-apprentice-rejected-by-irc/

Jun 13

Fair Go for Workers Compensation Day 19 June 2013

UNIONS NSWFair Go for Workers Compensation Day 19 June 2013

The only thing more Aussie than a lamington is a fair go and a fair go was stripped from NSW workers on 19 June 2012 when the NSW O’Farrell Government cut back the Workers Compensation system.Unions NSW is declaring 19 June 2013 ‘Fair Go for Workers Compensation Day’.

On this day, invite your neighbours over for a cup of tea and a lamington or hold a morning tea at your work. Take some photos, post them on our page or email them to wc@unionsnsw.org.au .

If you’re in Sydney, join us at 1pm on 19 June 2013 in the Jubilee Room at the Parliament of NSW, Macquarie Street, Sydney. RSVP to wc@unionsnsw.org.au.

Jun 12

Help End Workplace Bullying in Australia – Please complete our survey

 

Stop-bullying-now

Safe Work Australia recently released a revised draft Model Code of practice on Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying (May 2013 version). The Draft Code replaces the previous draft Model Code of Practice on bullying that was released in late 2011 and withdrawn for further consideration following significant public backlash and critical comment.

The Draft Code is open for public comment until 15 July 2013.

What is a Code of Practice and why is it important?

Codes of Practice apply in States and Territories that have implemented harmonised work health and safety legislation (at this stage, harmonised laws apply throughout Australia except in Victoria and Western Australia). They provide practical guidance for people who owe duties under the legislation to achieve standards of health, safety and welfare.

They are also admissible in court proceedings. For example, a court may regard a Code of Practice as evidence of what is known about a hazard, risk or control and may also rely on it when determining whether the duty holder has met the required standard of care.

A Model Code of Practice is prepared by Safe Work Australia and applies when formally adopted that Code.

The Injured Workers Support Network along with other interested groups will be making public comment on the Draft Code and we need your feedback.
This survey will only take a few minutes to complete and we thank you for taking the time to assist us

Click here to complete survey: surveymonkey.com/s/LFL9BYW

Jun 12

Truckies can have impaired health

large-truck

Truckies have impaired health

A survey of mental and physical health problems amongst truck drivers in NSW shows they aren’t getting the care they need.

A neglected group of people in Australia doesn’t seem to be getting the care they need and as a result may be inadvertently killing or injuring themselves and others. They’re truck drivers.

A survey of mental and physical health problems conducted at truck stops across NSW has found that almost one in five truck drivers had at least mild symptoms of a mental health problem and only a small percentage were getting appropriate help.

That’s probably because truck drivers are on the move so much it’s hard to pin down time to see a health professional. And being mostly blokes, they’re also more likely to try to tough it out.

The study also found that mild depressive symptoms doubled the chances of having an accident and severe depression increased the chances five or six fold and the truck drivers didn’t realise they were so impaired. On average the accident risk was equivalent to having a blood alcohol level of about .08.

The results suggested in fact that truck drivers use drugs at twice the rate of the rest of the population.

So the transport industry has a problem and it needs to find ways of helping truckies find answers to their distress.

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