Two Melbourne companies are facing a single charge of workplace manslaughter after the death of a 21 year old apprentice electrician last year.
The apprentice was electrocuted in March 2021 while performing maintenance work alone in a car lift.
Nordic Elevators Pty Ltd and Nordic Elevator Services Pty Ltd face the workplace manslaughter charge, a criminal offence that came into effect in Victoria in 2020.
Nordic Elevators is also facing a count of failing to provide employees with the necessary supervision to perform their work safely.
WorkSafe also charged Nordic Elevator Services with failing to provide and maintain safe systems of work, and failing to ensure people other than employees were not exposed to health and safety risks.
The offence carries hefty penalties including fines of up to $16.5 million and a maximum jail sentence of 25 years.
The director of the Young Workers Centre, Felicity Sowerbutts, told ACM exploitation of apprentices across all industries is a systemic issue in Australia.
"There are systemic issues of exploitation, wage theft, bullying and harassment, and unsupervised work across the apprenticeship system, and we've seen that reflected in queries to the Young Workers Centre," she said.
"Right now it's easy for employers to treat cycle through apprentices - treating each one terribly and then picking up another for the tax incentives. There's a shocking power imbalance in the workplace, which makes it hard for apprentices to speak up.
"They're often isolated in their work, and sometimes not even released to attend TAFE, so they have nowhere to turn for advice."
A Victorian stonemason business director became the first person charged with workplace manslaughter in October 2022.
The 45-year-old was charged after a subcontractor was fatally crushed at a factory in Somerton, in Melbourne's north, in October 2021. The director was allegedly operating the loaded forklift on a sloping driveway when it tipped and landed on the 25-year-old subcontractor.
"Previously, companies would just get a fine for negligently causing a workplace death," Ms Sowerbutts said.
"Workplace death and injury must never be considered a cost of doing business - if you kill a worker you should go to jail. We think this threat is changing boss behaviour in a lot of workplaces."
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According to the Victorian Registrations and Qualifications Authority there are more than 74,000 apprentices and trainees in Victoria across a broad range of industries.
Around half of apprentices nationwide complete their training and the majority cite workplace issues as the reason why they quit.
The case has been listed for a filing hearing at the Melbourne Magistrates Court in March.
ACM has contacted Nordic Elevators and Nordic Elevator Services for comment.
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