Labor urges government to develop industrial manslaughter laws to join other states and territories

Labor's Michelle O'Byrne with Guy Hudson, whose son Matthew Hudson (inset) died in a workplace incident in 2004, at the Workers Memorial Park in Invermay. Picture: Adam Holmes
Labor's Michelle O'Byrne with Guy Hudson, whose son Matthew Hudson (inset) died in a workplace incident in 2004, at the Workers Memorial Park in Invermay. Picture: Adam Holmes

Guy Hudson's son Matthew died at the Blue Ribbon Killafaddy meatworks in Newstead in 2004, but the process of finding justice through the Tasmanian courts only added to the family's heartache.

Sixteen years later and he says little has changed.

"There was no real accountability dished out to anyone. It was more like, who is the best one we can charge to pay the fine, and get on with it?" Mr Hudson said.

"We need accountability, we need people to start to care - not about us, or us left behind suffering, but they need to start caring about the workers and making the workers safe."

Matthew was aged 16 when he was starting work at the site for a contractor, using a forklift unsupervised which tipped over, killing him.

The meatworks' owner Australian Food Group was charged with failing to ensure an employee was safe from injury and failing to ensure a person in a workplace was safe from injury, and was initially fined $25,000. This increased to $75,000 on appeal in the Supreme Court.

The contractor was found to not be liable, with a magistrate ruling it was not reasonable for the contractor to be with Matthew every minute he was on site.

Mr Hudson lobbied to have the criminal code altered, but this did not occur. He said current laws in Tasmania were far too complex and unclear, making it difficult for magistrates to apply proper penalties.

"What we've seen hasn't really changed," he said.

Last week, Labor tabled a notice of motion calling for industrial manslaughter laws for Tasmania, which it hoped would come before Parliament this week. Failing that, the party plans to introduce a private member's bill.

Western Australia, Queensland, Victoria, Northern Territory and the ACT already have laws in place, and a 2018 independent review of Work Health and Safety laws recommended industrial manslaughter laws and increased penalties.

In these states and territories, the laws make it a criminal offence if the action or inaction of an employer results in a death. In WA, the maximum penalty is 10 years in prison and a $2.5 million fine for individuals, and $5 million for corporations. The penalties are double in Queensland.

Labor workplace relations spokesperson Michelle O'Byrne said the laws would act as a deterrent for companies engaging in unsafe conduct, ensuring they maintained safe workplaces.

"If you are an employer who does the right thing, who takes care of your workers, who ensures that they mitigate all of those risks, then these laws wouldn't have an impact on you," she said.

"But it would make sure in those high risk industries or industries where people might not do the right thing, that we can provide one more layer of defence to ensure that workers come home safe at the end of the day."

The independent review was hopeful of a national approach, but this has not occurred, resulting in states and territories developing their own laws.

Resources Minister Guy Barnett said the matter was still being considered by governments.

"That's being considered by the relevant industrial relations ministers across the country in coming months," he said.

"We already have the criminal code that outlaws manslaughter, that is in the code, and we as a government absolutely put top priority on safety in the workplace."

This story Industrial manslaughter laws put on the table for Tasmania first appeared on The Examiner.