Master Builders Association among employer groups to lobby State Government over industrial manslaughter laws

The West Australian
Employer groups are fighting controversial proposals for new industrial manslaughter laws that would jail employers for up to 20 years, set to be debated in the Upper House this week.
Employer groups are fighting controversial proposals for new industrial manslaughter laws that would jail employers for up to 20 years, set to be debated in the Upper House this week. Credit: Richard Clark/Getty Images

Employer groups are fighting controversial proposals for new industrial manslaughter laws that would jail employers for up to 20 years, set to be debated in the Upper House this week.

The Master Builders Association is among a coalition of employer groups lobbying the State Government with claims the proposed laws are the most draconian in the country.

One of the proposed laws, known as the simple offences clause, would make WA the only jurisdiction that penalises employers even when there is no negligent conduct, reckless or criminal negligence, or intentional engagement in conduct that causes death.

MBA’s head of legal, advocacy and professional services, Cathryn Greville said employers would not even have to have any knowledge of the safety breach — let alone any active involvement — in order to be prosecuted.

She said it would have a maximum penalty of ten years in jail, fines of up to $2.5 million for individuals and $5 million for body corporates.

It was feared some directors would step down from their roles in order to avoid personal liability, especially as there was no insurance to protect them.

A separate proposed category of criminal offences requires an employer to have knowledge and for negligence or recklessness to be proven. It carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in jail and fines of up to $5 million for individuals and $10 million for body corporates.

It is a significant boost from current Occupational Safety and Health and Safety Act which has a maximum penalty of five years in jail and $3.5 million in fines.

A letter to premier Mark McGowan signed by a roundtable group including the MBA, the Civil Contractors Federation, and the Construction Contractors Association of WA, among others, said the proposal represented a significant shift away from the currently co-operative approach to safety.

Under existing OHS laws both employers and employees can be prosecuted for safety breaches but the proposed industrial manslaughter laws would hold only employers accountable.

“The proposed IM provisions set two standards by excluding employees from application of the new laws, creating an ‘us and them’ mentality and destroying the collaborative work between employers and employees that has been developed over the past 20/30 years,” she said.