The Coalition’s intention to severely undermine workplace safety in NSW was dealt a blow today, with the NSW Upper House amending the government’s OHS Harmonisation legislation in key areas. One of the most important outcomes, according to NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge, was retaining the union right to prosecute.

“NSW is the first state to retain the union right to prosecute in the federal harmonisation process. This is testament to the collective spirit of workers across NSW,” Mr Shoebridge said.

“This is an important first check in the NSW upper house for the Coalition government’s anti-worker agenda, and shows the importance of an independent upper house.

“Keeping the union right to prosecute is a necessary check and balance in the OHS system, especially where Workcover, the state regulator fails to act.

“Though union prosecutions are scarcely used, they have been instrumental in improving workplace safety in NSW. They also act as a deterrent to employers who might have otherwise considered shortcuts in their search for profits and increased efficiency.

“The retention of the union right to prosecute has been a real blow to the government, who were looking to take a political swipe at unions by removing them from the OHS system.

“The government wanted an immediate end to union prosecutions. However the upper house has retained it in full until December, and inserted it into workplace safety legislation which will come into effect on 1 January 2012.

“In the spirit of the OHS Harmonisation process, states which do not currently have the union right to prosecute should now look to institute it across the country.

“While saving union prosecutions is a victory, workplace safety has still taken a blow in NSW, with the removal of the reverse onus of proof.

“The jurisdiction of the Industrial Court has also been limited. However with successful cross bench amendments from both the Greens and the Shooters, the Court continues to have oversight of the OHS regime and will still hear a limited class of prosecutions.” Mr Shoebridge said.