Comcare must act to enforce WHS laws in immigration detention

Failure to enforce COVID-19 social distancing rules in immigration detention centres, including hotels, is a breach of workplace health and safety laws and Comcare must act immediately to enforce this duty of care, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

“Where is Comcare at this critical time? Comcare is the workplace regulator and these detention centres and hotels are workplaces,” said Mr Greg Barns SC, spokesperson for the ALA. “Comcare has the power to act by forcing compliance with health and safety standards. It’s role is to keep detainees and staff in these centres, which are Commonwealth workplaces, safe.

“It is almost impossible for people in crowded immigration detention facilities to keep an appropriate distance from others, and reports from detainees indicate that there are many breaches of the COVID-19 social distancing and hygiene rules occurring.

“Reducing the number of people in immigration detention would be an effective way to quickly address this issue and can be achieved using a mix of community housing, bridging visas and expediting visa applications.

“Comcare needs to act immediately to enforce the health-related duties imposed on Home Affairs and the Australian Border Force by the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Comcare is one of the only government agencies with oversight of immigration detention facilities as these are all Commonwealth workplaces.

“We know that detention facilities have been identified as high risk COVID-19 settings so it is especially important that compliance with the rules is enforced in these centres,” said Mr Barns SC. “Reports indicate that the Department of Home Affairs is failing in its duty to protect detainees and staff from illness and death.

“It is the responsibility of the government and the private contractors running the detention

centres to ensure all detainees are kept safe by following the health guidelines. Failure to comply with the WHS duties is a criminal offence and Comcare has the authority to prosecute.”

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