Gains for workplace wellbeing and mental health

On 20 May, after significant ACTU and union campaigning, federal, state and territory minsters responsible for work health and safety voted to regulate mental health hazards in workplaces.

These changes represent a major step forward in the prevention of work-related mental illness, sexual harassment and gendered violence in workplaces. Regulation of ‘psychosocial hazards’ will require employers to identify and remove hazards to mental health in the workplace, the fastest growing source of workplace illness and injuries, as they must now do with physical hazards.

Such an enhanced regulatory framework will give workers and their unions greater rights to enforce better protections for mental health and to take action about key issues such as workload and occupational harassment and violence.

Earlier this year, with a focus on psychosocial health, the national People at Work survey tool was launched. The IEU attended a special briefing in Canberra conducted by the ACT WHS Commissioner Jacqueline Agius.

Funded by Australia’s WHS regulators, and free to every employer with more than 20 staff, the People at Work tool helps to identify key psychosocial hazards at workplaces and provides practical guidance on how to manage them. Of particular relevance for IEU members, the tool enables assessment of issues such as workload, fatigue and other workplace stress factors. This could include, for example, IEU concerns about staff shortages and the impact on the workloads of current teachers and support staff.

The new commitment by government to stronger laws to protect workplace mental health, as well as the People at Work psychosocial risk assessment tool, complements other initiatives supported by the IEU such as the annual principals’ health and wellbeing survey and the current survey of teachers being undertaken by ACU (details on the IEU website.)

All members have the right to feel safe and supported in their workplaces and for their health not to be affected by excessive workload or by harassment or bullying. Let’s hope that new legislation and resources will assist in moving workplace wellbeing beyond rhetoric to reality.