This comes after a roundtable meeting in Melbourne today involving Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten MP, officials from Safe Work Australia and the Department of Employment, Education and Workplace Relations and senior representatives from a broad range of volunteer and community organisations (listed below) to discuss Work Health Safety (WHS) issues.
The roundtable agreed:
- That safety is just as important in workplaces involving volunteers as any other and that everyone has the right to return home safe;
- That the scope of a volunteer’s duty to act reasonably is largely as it was before the harmonised laws;
- That the application of penalties for extreme actions was based on state laws in existence before the harmonised laws;
- That social or domestic activities – including examples like foster care - will not be covered by the harmonised laws; and
- That ongoing work and cooperation to improve clarity of the harmonised law’s limited practical consequences for grassroots volunteers would be most welcome.
“The Government’s new national WHS laws codify existing common law to ensure volunteers undertake their activities in safety – and will not depart from current practice for volunteer organisations,” Mr Shorten said.
“The fact is nearly all volunteer organisations already have good WHS practices in place and won’t face any additional burdens whatsoever,” Mr 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. It also builds on the excellent work already done by Safe Work Australia in providing information on the application of the new WHS laws to the volunteering sector.”
Today’s meeting decided to:
- Convene a working party of representatives of the Not-For-Profit sector, Volunteering Australia, key volunteer-based organisations, the Fair Work Ombudsman, Safe Work Australia, insurance and legal experts and others;
- Have the working party oversee the development a practical resource kit to help ‘cut through the red tape’ of working with volunteers;
- Develop a central resource kit and education support with key bodies like Volunteering Australia with easy to understand information on workplace and safety laws for volunteers and those organisations working with them;
- Safe Work Australia will work with the states and territories to develop interpretive guidelines that will clarify that the harmonised laws do not extend to exclusively domestic and social arrangements; and
- Safe Work Australia will set up a help-line and dedicated website, in coordination with the states and territories, to deal with queries from organsiations and their members on the application of the laws.
Mr Shorten said the new WHS laws ensure that volunteers receive the highest level of protection wherever they perform their work across Australia consistent with the protections provided to all workers.
He emphasised the laws do not apply to volunteer associations which do not employ anyone to carry out work for the association. The activities of such volunteer associations and their volunteers are automatically exempted from the new laws.
On behalf of attending organisations Volunteering Australia CEO Cary Pedicini said after the meeting that the initiatives will help volunteer organisations comply with workplace relations, safety and other relevant laws and reiterated their support for the new harmonised laws.
Further information on volunteers and the new WHS laws, including FAQs and fact sheets, is available from www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au
ATTENDEES AND CONTRIBUTORS
Victorian RSL - Wendy Bateman
Uniting Care - Bill Tobin
Anglicare - Paul McDonald
Catholic Bishops - Tom Carr
Community Council for Australia - David Crosbie
Lifeline Australia - Uieta Kaufusi
Mission Australia - Toby Hall
Surf Life Saving Australia - Brett Williamson
Volunteering SA and the NFPRC - Evelyn O'Loughlin
Volunteer Resource Centre - Julie Pettett
Wesley Mission - Graham Harris
YMCA Australia - Ron Mell
Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare - Dr Lynette Buoy
Volunteering Australia Inc. - Cary Pedicini
Safe Work Australia (Rex Hoy)
DEEWR (Sharon Huender )
Fair Work Ombudsman (Nicholas Wilson)
Prime Minister and Cabinet (Michael Perusco)