The 15,000 young people who intend to work in the Coalition’s “Green Army” will have no protections against racial, religious, sex or other forms of discrimination during their six months in the program, and will not be protected by workplace bullying provisions.

Fairfax newspapers revealed on the weekend that under the Social Security Legislation (Green Army Programme) Amendment Bill 2014, participants would be paid as little as half the minimum wage for working up to 30 hours a week. OH&S and other workplace protections would not be available because participants would be exempted from the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988, and, most importantly, the Fair Work Act.

The original Liberal Green Army policy, which emphasised the opportunity for “on-the-job training” in the program, envisioned projects being carried out by “local land care groups, bush care groups, foreshore communities, Natural Resource Management (NRM) Groups, local catchment authorities and councils”. But these will only be “project sponsors” under the program arrangements — participants will actually be employed by “Service Providers”.

They will be private sector bodies selected through a request for tender process that, according to the Department of Environment’s website, “will identify and appoint service providers who are experienced and capable of delivering the programme’s administrative components. Services providers can be single, multiple or part of a consortium to deliver services required to help implement the programme.”

Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s office argued that state and territory workplace protections would apply in the program and there would be insurance arrangements covering participants. Injuries under the Howard government’s Work for the Dole scheme, on which the “Green Army” is based (it will be an alternative to the revived Work for the Dole scheme) were common, and in one case a service provider was forced to pay nearly $200,000 to a program participant after the participant was injured erecting fencing on a wildlife refuge farm.

The Green Army bill, which is mainly related to the welfare payment status of those participating in the program, also removes participants from coverage by the Fair Work Act, so there will be no protections against discrimination by service providers or their staff under s.351 of the act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of “race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin”. The program is aimed particularly at young people between 17 and 24. There will also be no protection against workplace bullying, which is also covered by the Fair Work Act.

Hunt’s office provided the following response to Crikey this afternoon:

“All applicable legal protection, such as Australia’s anti-discrimination and work health and safety laws, will continue to apply.”

Peter Fray

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