Farmers fears remain over industrial manslaughter laws

Farmers express disappointment over new manslaughter laws

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Victorian Farmers Federation amendments to industrial manslaughter laws ignored.

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VFF DISAPPOINTMENT: Victorian Farmers Federation vice president Emma Germano said she's hopeful recently passed industrial manslaughter laws will not lead to what the organisation fears are "perverse" outcomes.

VFF DISAPPOINTMENT: Victorian Farmers Federation vice president Emma Germano said she's hopeful recently passed industrial manslaughter laws will not lead to what the organisation fears are "perverse" outcomes.

Victorian Farmers Federation vice president Emma Germano said she's hopeful recently passed industrial manslaughter laws will not lead to what the organisation fears are "perverse" outcomes.

The VFF expressed disappointment the manslaughter laws passed through parliament, without amendment.

"Workplace safety is a priority for every farming business; however the legislation that has passed through the parliament may lead to perverse safety outcomes," Ms Germano said.

Worksafe has reported five farm deaths, so far this year, compared with eight, for the same time in 2018.

Ms Germano said the VFF submitted amendments to the legislation that it believed would have have achieved greater fairness across all workplaces, and also led to improvements in safety standards.

"It is disappointing that the government has ignored all the employer organisations who were united in their call for the laws to apply to employees, adequate protections for family business and the same legal standards under the criminal code to be extended to workplace manslaughter," said Ms Germano.

The VFF's key recommendation was to exempt family businesses from the legislation.

The intent of the exemption was to provide peace of mind to family members, by way of protecting a person from prosecution in the instance a family member tragically died in a workplace accident.

Ms Germano said during debate on the legislation, the government outlined the Department of Public Prosecutions would have prosecutorial discretion as to which cases should be subjected to the laws.

That offered little confidence to the agricultural community, which remained fearful of being subjected to a long, expensive and emotional legal process when are mourning the tragic loss of a loved one.

But Ms Germano said the government's position could provide some risk mitigation, should such a tragedy occur.

"The government made it quite clear, on multiple occasions, the intent of the law was not for that purpose," Ms Germano said.

The legislation could have been written "in a fairer manner," she said.

"Our issue was that, inherently, farms are unique workplaces and it's very difficult to create standard operating proceedures around activities that happen on farms," she said.

There was concern that a lack of documentation might lead to a suspicion of neglect.

"Farmers may have a culture of safety, but they don't have the documents," Ms Germano said.

"It's come into legislation, so we have to do everything we can to focus on farm safety."

Ms Germano said the issue applied equally to farm employees, who were often seen as part of the wider family.

"Any farm fatality is one too many, as far as we are concerned - it's not legislation and deterrents that create better safety outcomes, it's about changing awareness."

Workplace Safety minister Jill Hennessy said the legislation was introduced, as it was part of an election promise, to make workplace manslaughter a criminal offence.

" There is nothing more important than every worker coming home safe every day," Ms Hennessy said."

"I can't begin to imagine the pain felt by the families who have lost a loved one at work. I don't want any families to suffer that type of trauma."

Under the new laws, employers who negligently cause a workplace death will face fines of up to $16.5 million and individuals will face up to 20 years in jail.

The offence will fall under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and will apply to employers, self-employed people and 'officers' of the company or organisation.

The new laws will also apply when an employer's negligent conduct causes the death of a non-employee.

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