Work health law concerns

Article image - Work health law concerns Photo courtesy of NSW Meals on Wheels

Concerns have been raised about the impact of new Work Health and Safety laws on volunteers in Local Government related organisations like Meals on Wheels.

Nationally, 78,700 volunteers deliver 14.8 million Meals on Wheels each year.

Around half of these volunteers work for NSW Meals on Wheels.

CEO Les MacDonald strongly supports the harmonisation of Work Health and Safety laws, but is concerned that workers' compensation laws still vary between states and do not cover volunteers.

"The Federal Government has legislated to ensure employers are responsible for ensuring the safety of their volunteers, but if a volunteer is injured at work they are still not covered," Mr MacDonald said.

"The Government has given us a partial solution. Occupational health and safety is intimately related to workers compensation – if you don't do a good job in the first area, you'll end up with a big problem in the second."

NSW Meals on Wheels started the Community Related Insurance and Superannuation Program (CRISP) 25 years ago, and now insures employees at 1000 not-for-profit organisations nationally.

Mr MacDonald said the cost of extending those policies to cover volunteers would be prohibitive.

"If not-for-profits have to develop better personal injuries policies to cover their volunteers, the Federal Government needs to meet the cost. After all, volunteers are making a huge unpaid contribution to this country's economy."

His view is supported by Opposition Workplace Relations spokesman Senator Eric Abetz: "The new Work Health Safety laws ensure that volunteers receive the highest level of protection wherever they perform their work.

"That level of protection will only come with huge insurance premiums attached and bureaucratic red tape, making it less likely for people to continue their volunteering efforts." Mr Abetz said.

"It is the government's responsibility to support and nurture the volunteer sector, not to tie it up in red tape and drive them out through exorbitant insurance premiums."

The issue was discussed at a January 20 roundtable meeting in Melbourne, which was attended by Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, Safe Work Australia officials and representatives of various volunteer and community organisations.

As a result of the roundtable, the Federal Government will collaborate with peak bodies and not-for-profit organisations to develop a resource kit on the new laws. A stakeholder working group will also be established to oversee measures aimed at cutting red tape.

"The fact is, nearly all volunteer organisations already have good WHS practices in place and won't face any additional burdens whatsoever." Minister Shorten said.

"The Government encourages people to continue volunteering and supporting their communities and will now provide even more clear information and guidance to volunteers, who play such an important role in our communities.

"Our latest discussions and new cooperative efforts will improve clarity of responsibilities and address any lingering confusion about the impact of harmonised laws."