More Grief for Smokers

Coming hard on the heels of the recent banning of smoking in pubs in Canberra, the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has advised its members in the Australian Tax Office (ATO) of impending changes to the ATO’s ‘Smoke Free Workplace Policy’.

Not content with banning smoking ‘in’ the workplace, or even ‘on’ workplace property (ie. smokers having to leave departmental property to smoke, for example: across the road), the Tax Office has floated a policy which bans staff from smoking during work hours at all. Here is the ATO’s proposal:

1. To design and implement a policy to ban smoking by employees
whilst they are on duty (including morning and afternoon tea).
This would include overtime, attending meetings, travel in an
official capacity on Tax Office business etc.

2. Commencement January 2009.

3. The Tax Office claims this is their duty of care to staff
and should not be seen to support a practice which is detrimental
to people”s health.

4. ATO would fund staff participation in activities to give
up smoking.

Presumably staff are ‘off duty’ while at lunch and, as long as they vacate the premises, can smoke to their heart’s content. As to the legality of the ATO controlling what staff do or don’t do on their tea breaks, they are looking into that…

The Tax Office’s presumption that it can control its workers’ personal behaviour in this manner must be resisted. Besides being an outright invasion of their workers’ private lives, it is also highly discriminatory against smokers who are being arbitrarily targeted for behaviour control while many other negative lifestyle habits are ignored or even encouraged.

Over-eating, for example, is a cause of ill-health in our community as significant as smoking or worse, yet no-one has sought to ban workers from over-eating. Rather, workplaces regularly engage in sanctioned orgies of unhealthy eating – the office morning tea. Similarly alcohol, responsible for much more mayhem than smoking, is regularly consumed in workplaces, at work functions and at the obligatory office christmas piss-up.

These glaringly hypocritical stances must be brought into some sort of logical alignment. No doubt the health nazis have plans to clamp down on every aspect of human misbehaviour at some point, but is that the resolution we desire? While all the non-smokers in the community pay scant regard to the dismal fate of their smoking cousins, perhaps they should consider which of their own unhealthy habits will be in the do-gooders’ sights next.

The Tax Office, like all employers, has a duty to provide a safe workplace. In the case of smoking this can easily be achieved by restricting smoking to specific areas (While they’re at it, they might want to test the air in offices and find out how many toxic chemicals are leaching out of all the plastics, vinyls, carpets and synthetic wood products therein). To go further crosses the boundary towards the sort of draconian authoritarianism that has so miserably failed to control the damage from currently illicit drugs.

UPDATE: And so it begins. Fatties first.

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