Govt Safety Authority Denies Media Reports on New Laws Affecting Volunteers
19 January 2012 at 3:24 pm
Safe Work Australia, the government authority managing the implementation of the new Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws, has expressed concern over recent reports on the new laws suggesting the media claims could “seriously discourage volunteers and potential volunteers from undertaking volunteer work”.
Safe Work Australia Chair, Tom Phillips, said that the new federal WHS laws, which came into effect on 1 January, will not apply to every volunteering activity or organisation.
The new laws have already been rolled out in NSW and Queensland.
“They apply if a volunteer organisation employs staff as well as volunteers to carry out work for the organisation,” Phillips said.
“The new WHS laws do not, for example, apply to the local junior football club run entirely by volunteers or to any community group which does not have any employees.”
Some media reports say the new laws mean volunteers will be regarded as ‘workers’ and can be prosecuted for safety breaches.
Safe Work Australia says that the former occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation in Queensland, the Northern Territory and the ACT mirrors the new laws, while in all other states, the protections afforded by OHS legislation also applied to volunteers at workplaces.
According to recent figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more than 6.1 million people participate in voluntary work across Australia.
The Minister for Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten, said that the Government is mindful of placing unnecessary administrative burdens on volunteer organisations.
“The Gillard Government’s new national OHS laws codify existing common law to ensure volunteers undertake their activities in safety – and will not depart from current practice for volunteer organisations,” Shorten said.
“The fact is nearly all volunteer organisations already have good OHS practices in place and won’t face any additional burdens whatsoever.”
Meanwhile, Volunteering Australia has endorsed the new laws, with chief executive, Cary Pedicini, saying they were a “good thing” for volunteers.
“Harmonisation will mean a higher level of protection for volunteers applied consistently no matter where they volunteer,” Pedicini said.
“We will continue to work with Safe Work Australia to address any concerns that arise as we have done for the last twelve months.”