This case study highlights the importance designated work groups can play in protecting vulnerable employees.
A labour hire provider placed 15 Vietnamese-born casual employees as chicken boners at a poultry processing plant with 120 direct employees. Only one of the Vietnamese-born labour hire employees speaks English.
The direct employees are represented by health and safety representatives (HSRs) via a number of designated work groups (DWGs) which reflect work done at the plant.
During induction, a co-worker mentioned that the chicken boners could seek to establish their own DWG because their job had a number of unique hazards.
When the English-speaking chicken boner asked his supervisor how he could establish a DWG, he was told not to bother as it would be too much trouble.
A few weeks later, one of the chicken boners had a near miss that could have resulted in a severe injury. Concerned, the English-speaking chicken boner contacted the labour hire provider to ask what to do.
The labour hire provider’s director met with the labour hire workers and heard they wanted to establish a DWG like the direct employees at the plant.
To support them, she arranged a meeting with the host employer's general manager and the labour hire workers' supervisor.
The labour hire provider’s director communicated the labour hire workers' concerns about a number of hazards specific to their role and that they wanted to establish a DWG and elect an HSR to represent their health and safety concerns.
The general manager was also made aware of the previous request to establish a DWG and that the labour hire workers had been told it was too much trouble and no negotiations had commenced. The general manager spoke with the supervisor involved regarding the duty under the legislation for negotiating and setting up DWGs and to refer any future matters to him directly.
The general manager acknowledged the labour hire workers' work was unique and agreed to establish a DWG within 14 days of the request. The English-speaking chicken boner nominated for the role and was elected by the labour hire workers as the HSR for their DWG. The general manager agreed that a translator would be available to attend the site if needed, or when the elected HSR was unavailable. Translated health and safety information was also provided to the employees in Vietnamese.
The general manager consulted with employees and set up regular meetings and open dialogue on how to report and manage the labour hire workers’ unique health and safety workplace hazards. The general manager kept records of health and safety issues discussed in these meetings and coordinated with the labour hire provider so it had access to the information.
Labour hire provider improvements
So far as is reasonably practicable, consult, cooperate and coordinate with the host employer in relation to occupational health and safety (OHS) issues.
Inform employees of their right to be represented in the workplace including their right to request the establishment of a DWG and be represented by an elected HSR at their host employer.
Consider and address the particular needs of young employees and employees from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
Monitor and review the OHS arrangements for each host workplace on a regular basis to ensure compliance with procedures and identify opportunities for improvement.
Keep information and records relating to health and safety of employees.
Provide information to employees about OHS, including in other languages as appropriate.
Host employer improvements
So far as is reasonably practicable, consult, cooperate and coordinate with the labour hire provider in relation to OHS issues.
Inform labour hire workers of their right to be represented in the workplace.
Set up DWGs that include labour hire workers, if requested.
Inform labour hire workers that they are eligible to be elected as an HSR for their DWG and support them to stand for election as an HSR.
Consider and address the particular needs of young workers and workers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
Ensure clear and regular communication with labour hire workers and the labour hire provider.
Integrate and support labour hire workers in the workplace.