The Age recently reported that WorkSafe Victoria has quietly stopped issuing press releases whenever companies are prosecuted for safety breaches, in order to make the agency less hostile to employers! We can’t help but wonder why the Victorian WorkCover Authority does not – at the same time – quietly stops writing press releases about prosecutions of (the less than 1% ) fraudulent injured workers – often, even before they have been found guilty in a court of law?
The world already looks down on people who have been injured, made ill or disabled at work, assuming that they are all lazy, malingerers, exaggerating or fraudsters, taking advantage of the workcover system. Workcover authorities, along with their agents (insurers), some politicians (around election time), and biased tabloids have shaped this stigma through decades of unfounded claims, with detrimental consequences to injured workers.
WorkSafe Vic stops press releases on prosecuted employers
Victorian WorkCover Authority stops press releases on prosecuted employers
By Farrah Tomazin (The Sunday Age’s state political editor ) – The Age – 6 April 2014
The state government’s key workplace authority has quietly stopped issuing press releases whenever companies are prosecuted for safety breaches, renewing claims of a political push to make the agency less hostile to employers.
Only weeks after The Sunday Age revealed TV ads to protect workers had been scrapped partly because they were seen as too heavy-handed towards business, the Victorian WorkCover Authority has also confirmed it has dumped the long-standing practice of notifying the public when companies are sanctioned for breaking occupational health and safety laws.
The press releases were issued for years under the former Labor government to help promote workplace safety, with groups such as the Victorian Trades Hall Council using them to send prevention messages to its members.
But despite WorkCover succeeding in dozens of prosecutions over the past nine months – some resulting in companies being fined hundreds of thousands of dollars – not one media release has been sent out since June last year, renewing fears of a politically motivated shift within the organisation.
The changes come at a sensitive time for the authority, which in the past few months has restructured its operations, shed staff, lost a swath of senior executives and is now in the process of scrapping the WorkSafe logo – one of Australia’s most recognised brands.
WorkCover refused to comment when asked if the government or senior management had issued a directive to stop press releases from being sent out, but said in a statement: ”The VWA continues to publish all its prosecution results on its website and provides regular updates to key stakeholder groups.”
However, critics and insiders say ”burying” the information on a website is not good enough.
”Giving the public details about court cases is a key part of the safety message,” Trades Hall state secretary Brian Boyd said.
Labor spokesman Robin Scott agreed, describing the move as a ”disgrace … employers who are prosecuted by Workcover should face public scrutiny for breaches of workplace safety”.
The decision to stop notifying the community about successful prosecutions comes after a TV ad that came down heavily on employers for unsafe work practices was removed last year because, according to well-placed sources, WorkCover Minister Gordon Rich-Phillips ”didn’t like it”.
Several months later, a second advert warning businesses about injuries relating to manual labour was also canned before it went to air after government advisers saw the script, resulting in about $600,000 in wasted production costs.
Angst within the organisation has also been compounded by an exodus of senior staff. In recent months the organisation has lost its general manager of health and safety, its executive director of injury support and service, its director of workplace hazards and its general counsel, among others – prompting claims the agency is ”in turmoil”.
”The constant restructures that are occurring one after another, the turnover of senior staff and the unilateral announcement by the government to forcibly relocate staff to Geelong has left the place reeling,” Community and Public Sector Union state secretary Karen Batt said.
But WorkCover spokesman Peter Flaherty said the agency was undergoing a restructure to ensure its operations are ”efficient and effective”, adding: ”It is not unusual in an organisation as large as the VWA that key executives are headhunted for other positions or decide to pursue new directions.”