VICTORIAN farmers have failed to have family businesses exempted from new workplace manslaughter legislation.
Under the new laws passed on Tuesday night, employers who negligently cause a workplace death will face fines of up to $16.5 million and individuals will face up to 20 years in jail.
The offence will fall under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and will apply to employers, self-employed people and ‘officers’ of the company or organisation.
Victorian Farmers Federation vice president Emma Germano said the workplace safety is a priority for every farming business.
“However, the legislation that has passed through the parliament may lead to perverse safety outcomes.”
The Victorian Farmers Federation said it had submitted well-thought amendments to the legislation that would have achieved greater fairness across all workplaces, but also led to improvements in safety standards.
“It is disappointing that the government has ignored the calls of all the employer organisations who were united in their calling for the laws to apply to employees, adequate protections for family businesses and the same legal standards under the criminal code to be extended to workplace manslaughter,” Ms Germano said.
The VFF had wanted to exempt family businesses from the legislation, with the intent of “to provide peace of mind to family members by way of protecting a person from prosecution in the instance a family member tragically died in a workplace accident.”
The government outlined during the debate that the Department of Public Prosecutions had prosecutorial discretion as to which cases should be subjected to the new workplace manslaughter legislation. But Ms Germano said this offered little confidence to agricultural community who remain fearful of being subjected to a long, expensive and emotional legal process when a family are mourning the tragic loss of a loved one.
The Andrews Labor Government making workplace manslaughter a criminal offence was an election commitment. Up to 30 people are killed in workplaces across the state every year and 20 people have lost their lives at work in 2019.
The new laws will also apply when an employer’s negligent conduct causes the death of a non-employee. The Labor Government also recently announced a $10 million package to boost WorkSafe’s investigation and enforcement capacity, with a specialist team established to lead investigations and prosecutions of workplace manslaughter.
The package also includes clear protocols in place between WorkSafe and Victoria Police that require families to be notified as soon as possible after a workplace death or a serious injury, and including truck drivers killed on the road in the workplace death toll, ensuring these deaths get the focus they deserve.
WorkSafe Victoria will investigate the new offence using their powers under the OHS Act to ensure non-compliant employers can be prosecuted – making clear that putting people’s lives at risk in the workplace will not be tolerated, the government said.
A Workplace Manslaughter Implementation Taskforce led by Parliamentary Secretary for Workplace Safety Natalie Hutchins and including a Families’ Reference Group, helped develop the new laws.
Minister for Workplace Safety Jill Hennessy said there is nothing more important than every worker coming home safe every day.”
“I can’t begin to imagine the pain felt by the families who have lost a loved one at work. I don’t want any families to suffer that type of trauma.”
“We’re standing up for working people – and better protecting those touched by tragedy – because workers deserve a safe environment when they go to work each and every day.”