Unionist and former criminal defence lawyer Jacqueline Agius has been appointed the ACT’s new Work Health and Safety Commissioner. She will replace outgoing Commissioner Greg Jones who announced his retirement earlier this month.
Ms Agius – who is the senior industrial officer at the ACT branch of the Australian Education Union (AEU) – will become the first female commissioner when she begins her five-year term at the head of WorkSafe on 28 April.
One of her first tasks will be to continue to implement the 27 recommendations made in the 2018 independent review of the ACT’s work safety compliance infrastructure, policies, and procedures, Minister for Employment and Workplace Safety Suzanne Orr said.
The development of an updated strategic plan and a compliance and enforcement policy are also priorities for the incoming commissioner, Ms Orr said.
“We are pleased that Ms Agius will lead the Office of the WHS Commissioner. Her strong record of achievement in work health and safety puts her in a good position to make significant changes for the ACT,” she said.
“The policy will clearly articulate the way in which WorkSafe will operate, including its aims, approach and the key principles underpinning how it regulates. The policy will also outline the compliance and enforcement tools to be used by WorkSafe and the enforcement, investigation and prosecution criteria to be applied.”
Ms Agius also served on the board of the ACT Work Safety Council from 2016 to 2019, an experience that will help her facilitate negotiations between unions, businesses, workers and the government to develop the framework for the new policies.
“Fundamental to a successful economy and fair workplaces is the right for workers to return home after a day’s work in the same state that they left home for work in the morning,” Ms Agius said.
“This is an exciting opportunity to ensure that workers are front and centre of work safety in the ACT.”
She also has academic qualifications in creative arts, education and law.
WorkSafe ACT became an independent entity in December last year when the ACT Government amended the Work Health and Safety Act after a recommendation from the 2018 independent review.
The former Minister for Employment and Workplace Safety, Rachel Stephen-Smith, said at the time that the amendments were moved to enhance the independence, transparency, accountability and scrutiny of WorkSafe.
“This Bill creates a governance structure for the regulator that will deliver a clear, independent and well-informed strategic approach to the activities of the Office with appropriate oversight and accountability,” she said in August 2019 after the amendments were introduced into the Legislative Assembly.
New reporting requirements were also brought in.