Last week, the Labor Daniel Andrews state government introduced legislation to the parliament which places family businesses across the state into the cross hairs of WorkSafe.
The VFF along with other employer organisations have met with key political stakeholders to outline that the proposed new industrial manslaughter legislation does nothing to increase workplace safety in a range of sectors, including agriculture.
Employees in agriculture are faced with a range of variables which differentiates our sector to many others in the modern workforce.
Agriculture is presented with many variables and challenges, such as weather, machinery, livestock and chemicals.
Our places of work are spread across hundreds if not thousands of acres.
While the VFF encourages our members and industry to employ safe working practices, there is no denying the challenges we face every day in our place of work.
During a parliamentary speech, the Attorney General noted it was not in the public interest to prosecute family members who were associated with the new industrial manslaughter legislation.
The VFF is urging the government to follow up this rhetoric and include a formal exemption in the legislation for family members of a workplace fatality.
While a family is mourning the loss of a loved one, there is absolutely no benefit to prosecuting a family member for workplace manslaughter, and no winners coming from the long and unnecessary legal battle that would result.
The government has already exempted employees from this legislation, they must now offer the same peace of mind to our hard working family businesses.
The VFF is also concerned that WorkSafe has been charged with the responsibility of conducting investigations into possible workplace manslaughter.
Given this is the second highest criminal penalty in the land, the only authority with the correct skills, resources and experience is Victoria Police.
There needs to be adequate checks and balances while allowing fairness and equity for all Victorian workers.
While there are many questions left unanswered about this very important legislation.
The VFF is concerned the government is trying to push the bill through the parliament without it being publicly debated and assessed properly by all our parliamentarians.
The bill should be referred to the appropriate parliamentary committee so we can assess the effectiveness of the bill in its current form.
The VFF will be strong and vocal in its calling for family businesses to be protected in this bill.
The bullying tactics currently being enforced by the state government are not going to lead to better safety outcomes.
Workplace safety is everyone's responsibility, everybody, every workplace, every day, and will not be achieved by exempting all employees while seeking to punish only the employer.
- David Jochinke is president of the Victorian Farmers Federation