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Publications archive - International Activities and Commitments


Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Australia's report to the UNCSD - 1995

Implementation of Agenda 21
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1995
ISBN 0 6444 3152 0

Workers and unions

Chapter 29 of Agenda 21

Australian trade unions have a key role to play in reducing the economic and human costs associated with poor occupational health and safety (OHS) and environmental performance through their activities in specific workplaces.

More broadly, trade unions are recognised as playing a role through extensive tripartite processes in the economic, social and environmental policies and programs of the nation.

Australia's national policies addressing environmental issues relating to employment.

Australia's initiatives can be grouped into four categories: work on OHS; tripartite activity on sustainable development; government funding of employment-oriented research and job placement in 'green jobs'; and independent trade union and employer initiatives in sustainable development.

Occupational health and safety

Australia is a member of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). It is currently a member of the Governing Body of the ILO and actively participates in the Asia and Pacific region in promoting and assisting ILO objectives and programs. As required by Convention 144 it consults with employers and trade unions on matters on the agenda of the International Labour Conference and on reports relating to the ratification of ILO Conventions.

In recent years Commonwealth (Federal), State and Territory Governments have introduced OHS legislation based on co-regulation by managers and employees. Common features include an express duty of care on employers and employees, and provisions for the appointment of employees as OHS representatives or on OHS committees. It is the role of these representatives to bring potentially dangerous situations to the notice of management and workers and to liaise between the two parties on matters concerning the health and safety of all at the workplace.

In 1985 the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC) was established. Comprising representation from employee and employer organisations and Commonwealth and State/Territory governments, NOHSC leads national efforts to provide healthy and safe working environments, and to reduce the incidence and severity of occupational injury and disease. NOHSC operates on consensus principles and consults widely, including through formal public consultation processes on draft national OHS instruments. State and Territory OHS jurisdictions generally involve trade unions and employers in policy, program and standards development processes through formal consultative structures.

Tripartite activity on sustainable development

The Australian Government funds the Australian Manufacturing Council, a tripartite body consisting of government, employer and trade union representatives. Over the last three years it has researched and produced a series of publications relating to Best Practice Environmental Management and Regulation for the guidance of Australian businesses and trade unions.

Through the Ecologically Sustainable Development Working Group Process initiated in 1990 and concluded in 1992, trade unions were involved in the production of sustainable development policies and programs for a wide range of industries.

The ACTU is represented on the National Greenhouse Advisory Panel, a peak body of non-government organisations (NGOs) which advises governments on the implications of greenhouse response measures initiated under the National Greenhouse Response Strategy.

Throughout the development of the National Strategy for ESD the involvement of trade unions was seen as vital. The process was important in providing a forum for bringing together trade unions with industry, conservation groups and community groups so they were obliged to discuss their differences and concerns about issues in a structured and progressive forum.

Government funding of employment-oriented research and job placement in 'Green Jobs'

As part of its national OHS training and education strategy, NOHSC provides a framework for a range of national activities including grants to the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) to provide training for employees and for employers respectively, grants to industry and community organisations for training of specific target groups, and grants to higher education institutions for training needs analysis. The aim of the strategy is to ensure that all people whose decisions affect the workplace have adequate OHS training.

The Australian Government has provided funding to a 'Green Jobs in Industry' project jointly run by the ACTU and the Australian Conservation Foundation. This project has two aims: to provide a scan of the potential for employment growth in environmental management and other 'green' industries and to place unemployed people into new positions that it has identified.

Through the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), the Australian Government has provided opportunities for business, environment and trade unions to improve their policy input and participation in government environmental activity through the fixed term funding of positions in EPA's central office.

Independent Trade Union and employer initiatives in sustainable development

Australian trade unions have independently initiated a number of actions in promoting or implementing sustainable development. The ACTU and affiliated trade unions have published information and strategies for dealing with the employment implications of greenhouse response strategies.

Many of the more than 2700 federally registered workplace agreements negotiated between employer, employees and their trade unions have addressed the issue of developing a safer working environment. For example, some agreements in the manufacturing industries contain specific references to operation in an environmentally responsible manner, such as reduction of fugitive gas emission and environmental monitoring.

In addition, expert advice on matters affecting women and their rights and status in the workplace is provided to the Government by the Women's Employment, Education and Training Advisory Group (WEETAG). WEETAG comprises representatives of peak employer and employee bodies.

The 1993 ACTU Congress adopted a model environment clause for inclusion in workplace industrial agreements. It outlines employees' rights and responsibilities to be consulted about the environment performance of enterprises and involved in their improvement, and includes the right to be involved in environmental audits of the workplace.

In December 1992 the ACTU and the Australian Conservation Foundation (a leading environment NGO) signed a charter committing the organisations to increased cooperation, consultation and joint work in coming years.

In specific environmental areas, such as the conservation of biological diversity and protection of endangered species, consultative mechanisms are concentrated on environment and development NGOs, with some input by business and unions.

The ACTU is represented on the Australian Government's NGO Forum on International Environment Issues, which meets at least twice yearly at ministerial level to discuss with and advise governments on the interaction of international environmental obligations with other international activities such as trade and on domestic policies, programs and activities.

Australia's international policies

Australian action at the international level in this area can be grouped into three areas: action through the ILO on trade union and workers' rights, including OHS and working environment issues; international development cooperation to promote stable industrial relations structures and improved working conditions in developing countries to enhance their prospects for economic and social development; and facilitation of NGO participation in general environment and sustainable development issues.

The Government accords a high priority to, and Australia has actively promoted, the ratification of appropriate ILO Conventions. An interdepartmental task force has been established by the Federal Government to examine Conventions considered to be possible targets for ratification.

Australia has ratified the majority of the Freedom of Association Conventions of the ILO:

A representative of the ACTU was included on the Australian delegation to the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), and to the 1993 and 1994 sessions of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. Australia was one of very few nations represented at UNCED to incorporate NGO representation at such a high level and in accordance with UN recommendations.

For further information contact:

Department of Industrial Relations