Thursday, 24 November 2011
Work Health and Safety Bill 2011, Work Health and Safety (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2011; In Committee
Indeed, the circumstances around volunteers are possibly even a bit more complex than that. I am sure that Senator Abetz understands that many incorporated or even unincorporated volunteer organisations involve both employees and volunteers. This is why the government believes the bill strikes a balance between protecting volunteers in the workplace while also not discouraging voluntary participation in community activities.
Under the model laws, workers who are volunteers are owed the same protections as any workers. This is an important protection and it ensures that volunteers are not treated differently to employees and contractors who are engaged in the same workplace. The application of the bill to volunteer associations is not directly relevant to this debate because the Commonwealth bill before us today will only apply to the Commonwealth, Commonwealth public authorities and, for a transitional period, non-Commonwealth licensees. However, the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Bill does form part of a national scheme of harmonised work health and safety laws that recognises that there are some voluntary associations that do not have health and safety duties. To that extent, I think it is still relevant to deal with this point. These are groups of volunteers working together for community purposes who do not employ any person to carry out work for the volunteer association. The engagement of contractors for one-off jobs—for example, to audit the accounts or drive a bus for a day trip—will not affect a volunteer association's status. However, if a volunteer association has employees, then it will owe health and safety duties to all workers, including any volunteers who engage in work for the association. The Model Work Health and Safety Regulations clarify that the law applies equally to both unincorporated and incorporated volunteer organisations. An officer who is a volunteer will have the duty to exercise due diligence but cannot be prosecuted as an individual for failing to do so. This is designed not to discourage voluntary participation as officers. Importantly, Safe Work Australia is developing, in consultation with Volunteering Australia, further guidance material for volunteer organisations, volunteer officers and volunteer workers.