Overburdened Aussie SME Owners Need Improved Policy Design for Workplace Safety

Insight: JULY 21, 2023

In light of the Robodebt fallout, it’s become clear that policy considerations need to extend beyond financials and politics. We need to place human wellbeing at the centre, particularly mental health. This includes all strata of society, including over two million self-employed Australians who employ more than half of all workers.

A recent Commonwealth Treasury report underscores the mental health crisis among the self-employed. Over one in five small business respondents were diagnosed with a mental health condition. In retail and food service sectors, this figure jumps to over a third.

The stress these self-employed individuals face is often exacerbated by complex policies developed by those who seem out of touch with the realities of running a business.

Consider Safe Work Australia (SWA). It’s been stated by their CEO that a self-employed person is legally responsible for their own mental health. How can this be when mental health is often out of one’s control?

SWA oversees workplace health and safety across all Australian businesses, yet doesn’t seem to prioritise the wellbeing of business leaders. Reports of high staff turnover in SWA further indicate potential internal issues with the organisation’s understanding of sound management practices.

Workplace relations further complicates the situation. The labyrinthine system is so difficult to navigate, even experts have faltered, resulting in multi-million-dollar paybacks.

This complexity not only makes compliance near impossible but also impedes effective regulation. Unfortunately, the Albanese government has further complicated this system, creating additional stress for over 900,000 Australian employers and their employees.

This complexity hampers the Department of Workplace Relations. It raises the question of whether the government is prioritising its own agenda over creating policies beneficial for all Australians.

A healthy, safe workplace is one where rules are easily understood by both employers and employees. Our current situation is far from this ideal.

It’s not just workplace health and safety and industrial relations that pose a problem. The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has shown little consideration for the mental health of small business owners.

This lack of focus on the self-employed’s wellbeing is blatant discrimination. As per the Treasury report, the mental health situation among the self-employed is critical. The time for change is now.

Our leaders need to deliver on their promises to simplify, make fairer, and clarify the system for the benefit of employers and their employees. This could significantly enhance workplace safety and industrial democracy.

Public servants need to be held accountable for truthful and beneficial policy development. It’s unacceptable to compromise the health and wellbeing of Australian small business owners and their employees for political gain.