Shock results: Drug and Alcohol Trial finds nothing at the same time as Fair Work Australia sets some guidelines

Uh oh, who'd have thought?

In a result which won't surprise those who thought drugs and alcohol at work were not a problem in local government, but will surprise those who believed that they were, the trial of the Industry Guidelines on alcohol and other drugs found no employees tested positive for illegal drugs and only one tested positive for alcohol.

This result explains why the overwhelming majority of councils are not interested in developing drug and alcohol policies and are certainly not interested in the wasted time, effort, cost and aggravation of random testing.

The Industry Guidelines were developed cooperatively by the Local Government and Shires Associations and the three local government unions – the United Services Union, the Local Government Engineers Association and depa - in 2010 and 2011. It was the first time agreement had been reached between the employer and employee organisations over an area of policy which had been studiously avoided or, if dealt with at all, randomly and inconsistently developed.

As far back as 2006 depa had been encouraging the LGSA and the other unions to reach agreement on drug and alcohol policies that would discourage the introduction of random testing. This is a reaction to news first revealed in a Sunday newspaper that Kempsey had introduced random testing without consulting with the unions.

 

In parallel with the Industry Guidelines trial, two of the local government unions, the USU and APESMA (the Federal organisation of the LGEA) were involved with other electricity industry unions in a significant test case at Endeavour Energy. The case was heard before Senior Deputy President Hamberger in Fair Work Australia.

The Senior Deputy President had already established precedents about the importance of a random testing regime in industries that provide significant amounts of dangerous work (like electricity and mining, for example) using a testing method which actually detected impairment at the time the testing was carried out. Electricity is one of those industries where the unions agree with the concept of random testing because everywhere you go there is 1 million volts waiting to zap you.

This meant the obvious choice needed to be saliva testing, rather than urine testing, which fails to detect impairment at the time of the test but gives you a great idea of what people been doing in their own time over preceding weeks.

The Endeavour Energy case set the following precedents which will be fed into the review of the Industry Guidelines next week:

  1. any PCA/alcohol testing should use the Motor Traffic Act differing prescriptions,
     
  2. oral testing is preferred to urine testing for a variety of privacy and accuracy reasons and,
     
  3. there should be no obligation on employees to disclose prescription medication prior to any testing.

These three principles will confront Upper Hunter on the method of testing, Coffs Harbour in particular on the "one size fits all" PCA testing and quite a few councils believing it is appropriate for employees to disclose their medication regardless of privacy. Any testing regime that requires people being medicated for depression, hormonal changes, gender reallocation, sexually transmittable diseases or other treatments which are none of the business of the employer, needs to be resisted at every opportunity.

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