NSW Labor Leader in the Legislative Council and Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations Adam Searle has confirmed that NSW Labor will reintroduce legislation into parliament “as soon as possible in 2021” for the creation of industrial manslaughter laws in the state, pushing for higher penalties including prison time, to ensure bosses are held accountable for workplace deaths. The renewed call follows a sentencing hearing in December 2020, where the defendant company in the death of Christopher Cassaniti was fined $900,000 in the District Court.
Eighteen-year-old Cassaniti died in a scaffolding workplace accident in Sydney’s north-west in 2019. According to Searle’s statement, the prosecutor accepted a plea to a category 2 offence, which had a maximum penalty of $1.5 million. The most serious kind of case, category 1, carried a maximum penalty at the time of the offence of $3 million. The judge had initially issued a $1.2 million fine, but gave a 25% discount due to the defendant’s guilty plea. The judge said the offence was of the “utmost severity” and, given the circumstances, “almost certain to occur”, adding that the steps to avoid the risk were “simple and inexpensive”.
In the statement, Searle said that the tragic Cassaniti case illustrates the need for these new laws, which would include the re-establishment of an Industrial Court in NSW where workplace safety laws could be enforced. “The current laws are failing and a major overhaul of safety standards is needed,” Searle said. “There must also be increased enforcement of those standards, because employers and other businesses that do the wrong thing must be held to account when someone is killed on their watch.”
Searle also committed to implementing reforms known as ‘Christopher’s Law’, which the Cassaniti family has been campaigning for, to ensure special protections for apprentices and young people entering the construction industry. “One death is one too many, and every worker should come home,” Searle said. “We must take action to ensure workers are safe and rogue employers are held accountable.” NSW Shadow Minister for Consumer Protection Julia Finn said deaths at work should always be treated as the most serious kind of case and punished accordingly. “We need to develop a culture that supports workplace safety in NSW, not a culture that’s all about cutting corners and unsafe workplaces,” Finn said.
In a separate statement, CFMEU Construction criticised the regulator, SafeWork NSW, and the NSW Government for the handling of the Cassaniti case and the state’s lack of industrial manslaughter laws. “This continues a pattern of behaviour from SafeWork NSW where they fail to investigate matters properly or prosecute builders appropriately,” CFMEU NSW Construction Secretary Darren Greenfield said. “The NSW Government’s failure to pass industrial manslaughter laws like those in Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia shows they are putting corporate greed ahead of workers’ lives.”
In the statement, Greenfield said: “SafeWork NSW is not up to the job of holding employers to account for injury and loss of workers’ lives”, adding that the union will not back away from doing everything it can to keep workers safe. “NSW workers clearly need strong industrial manslaughter laws that hold builders to account and punish them appropriately for workplace deaths caused by their negligence or intransigence on safety,” Greenfield said.
In his statement, Searle said NSW Labor proposed changes to the state’s workplace safety laws following a spate of workplace fatalities and injuries in NSW, but was defeated in a 19–18 vote in the Legislative Council in March 2020.