Labour shortages across regional Western Australia are being exacerbated by employers’ drug testing policies, small businesses say.
- Businesses across a range of industries are struggling to secure staff and those that drug test are finding it especially hard
- Some businesses are introducing drug testing in response to new workplace safety laws
- Some workers using cannabis in their free time are choosing to stop in order to keep their jobs
The Work Health and Safety Act, passed in WA in November 2020, has prompted a number of regional businesses to adopt drug testing to meet their workplace safety obligations.
Steve McKenny, who owns Everett Butchers in Kalgoorlie, said he had been searching for a qualified tradesperson for more than a year.
He believes the problem was made worse by his business’ mandatory drug testing policy.
“We’ve tried many different media outlets, different sorts of ads, different angles, word of mouth — not even a phone call,” Mr McKenny said.
“If we put a sign up we would easily get 40 or 50 applicants.
Ethan Sylvester, owner of Paul’s Pet Foods in Albany, said applications had dropped by “about 30 per cent” since taking up the policy.
When he advised his 12 staff that the business would start drug testing, four revealed they use cannabis recreationally.
‘Choices need to be made’
Jason and Reece, whose surnames can not be used through fear of prosecution, are two of those workers.
Because cannabis remains testable for days or weeks after wearing-off, both had decided to stop using it in order to keep their jobs.
“I don’t agree with everything but choices need to be made in life so I made the decision to keep my job,” Jason said.
Mr Sylvester said that cannabis had not impacted his workers’ performance and if it were not illegal he would exclude it from drug testing to make hiring easier.
“I’d probably leave [my policy] as it is because my staff who do [smoke] work hard, they come to work, they turn up all the time, they never do it at work,” he said.
Nonetheless, he planned to proceed with the policy after a workplace management consultant told him he would be liable for any substance found in his workers’ systems, regardless of their intoxication.
Who’s liable, who’s hirable
Simon Creek, a lawyer and executive chairman of HHG Legal Group, said the tension between employers’ legal obligations and their difficulty securing staff would only grow.
According to Mr Creek, the Work Health and Safety Act gives employers “a bar [of responsibility] that is ten times higher than it was ten years ago”.
“It’s very likely now that if somebody’s injured in the course of their work and there’s any finding of negligence, directors who are deemed to have responsibility for workplace safety are going to be facing jail or enormous fines,” he said.
“I would be very inclined to introduce drug testing if I were in Mr Sylvester’s shoes.”
As for how Mr Sylvester might secure more staff, the lawyer had no advice.