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Workplace Manslaughter Bill - VIC

October 30, 2019

Today, the Victorian Government has tabled in Parliament legislation to create a new offence of workplace manslaughter.

We can now confirm from the Bill today that under the proposed new laws:

  • Employers and contractors 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.
  • As previously advised, employees cannot be charged with the proposed workplace manslaughter offence.

HIA has been a member of a Taskforce to represent member views and concerns around the proposal, and has also met with the Attorney General and other members of Parliament before the Bill was introduced. Despite these efforts, HIA is not satisfied that the proposal will improve safety outcomes and may regrettably undermine existing safety laws particularly due to the exclusion of employees.

Employees excluded

HIA advised members in May of the government’s intention to exclude employees from conviction. Despite HIA and other industry and employer associations raising concerns about this exclusion – which is totally inconsistent with the existing occupational health and safety system – the Bill not only excludes employees but also expressly makes employers, contractors and other duty holders at risk of conviction for workplace manslaughter as result of an employee actions.

In other words, an employer or contractor who has personally taken reasonable action to ensure the safety of their workplace could be sent to jail because of the criminal negligence of their employees or subcontractors.

The Victorian Government will assert that employees will be excluded as they can be charged with the common law offence of manslaughter as individuals if they cause a death by their criminal negligence. HIA does to not believe that this is correct and notes that the proposed offence will apply to individuals such as sole traders, contractors, suppliers of equipment and similar. If the government was convinced that an individual could be charged with common law manslaughter for a workplace death, it would not have been necessary to include these other individual duty holders within the reach of the proposed offence.

No protection from self-incrimination

Another problem with the proposed offence is that a person charged with workplace manslaughter will be required to provide information - notwithstanding that that information may incriminate them. The removal of the rights against self-incrimination for prosecution of occupational health and safety offences is accepted as necessary to support prosecution of existing offences but is unfair for a charge of manslaughter. A person charged with common law manslaughter, or indeed murder, will not be subject to this limitation on their human right to not incriminate themselves.

Particularly adverse impact on small business

The proposed offence will also have a disproportionate impact on small businesses. The overseas experience and fact that most small business owners have a ‘hands-on’ role in the business means that these businesses will be most at risk of prosecution.

HIA will continue to provide information about the problems with this proposal to all members of Parliament and seek amendments to improve the legislation and make it fair.

If you need more information about this matter you may contact a HIA workplace services advisor on 1300 650 620.