Community Connections to be prosecuted by WorkSafe

Community Connections to be prosecuted by WorkSafe

COMMUNITY Connections will become the first not-for-profit organisation to be prosecuted by WorkSafe after allegedly dismissing an employee who raised occupational health and safety issues.

The Warrnambool-based social justice service provider is also being investigated by the Department of Human Services (DHS) in a review which could determine the agency's future.

A DHS spokeswoman confirmed yesterday that a "service review" of Community Connections was under way.

"Through its service agreements with funded agencies the department monitors and reviews the performance of agencies on a regular basis," she said.

It is understood that process was sparked after serious allegations were raised concerning Community Connections with Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge and the DHS.

Community Connections is a not-for-profit organisation which caters for thousands of individuals, families and children in the south-west.

The WorkSafe authority has charged Community Connections with dismissing an employee who raised concerns in relation to OH&S issues. The case is set down for a mention hearing in the Warrnambool Magistrates Court on August 2.

A WorkSafe spokeswoman confirmed that a not-for-profit organisation was facing one charge in relation to an alleged incident at a workplace on November 25, 2009.

“WorkSafe understands it is the first time in Victoria that a not-for-profit has faced charges under section 76 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004,” the spokeswoman said.

“Under section 76, it is an offence to dismiss, injure or alter a worker’s position to his or her detriment, or threaten to do so, just because the worker has raised a concern over a health and safety issue.”

Employer bodies convicted of breaching the laws face fines of up to $305,350.

Community Connections manager Cheryl Umbers yesterday said she was not prepared to comment because the matter was now before the courts.

Australian Services Union acting assistant secretary Wil Stracke also took a cautious approach to Community Connections being charged.

“The ASU cannot comment on these specific allegations as they are currently before the courts,” he said.

“However, we will obviously be keeping a close eye on the outcome of this matter as the union is on the record as having previously raised numerous concerns about the operations of this particular agency through WorkSafe, Workcover, the Federal Court and with DHS and Minister (Mary) Wooldridge.

“We are committed to continuing to fully support current and former ASU members at Community Connections.”

It is understood that the only Victorian company successfully prosecuted under section 76 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act has been Patrick Stevedores.

Last year Warrnambool community worker Gary Lucas won an unfair dismissal case against Community Connections.

After a four-day Fair Work Australia unfair dismissal hearing in Warrnambool and Melbourne during March and April, Commissioner Wayne Blair found there was no valid reason for Mr Lucas’ sacking.

Details of an unfair dismissal case were suppressed but came to light in late July when an unsuccessful application was made to have the confidentiality order lifted.

A three-man panel heard the application, but Commissioner Blair was worried his decision might damage the organisation’s credibility.

It was also revealed that the case resulted in extremely critical findings against Community Connections chief executive officer Bruce du Vergier and other senior executives.