Coalition's "green army" may not get workplace protection

THE Coalition's election pledge for a "green army" of thousands of young voluntary workers to complete conservation projects around the nation could leave the workers without the same legal protections as other Australian employees.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt on Wednesday introduced the legislation for the green army program, which aims to provide training and experience to 15,000 young Australians over the next four years.

The program was a key election pledge for the government, and would be open to school leavers, gap-year students, graduates and jobseekers to fill casual roles on environmental projects.

It would see volunteers' likely working for the national training wage, which for "jobseekers" would, in most cases, replace any income support payments they may be on.

The program aims to sign up 2500 in its first year of operation, 2014-15, and up to 15,000 by 2018; to work on weeding, landscaping and other conservation programs around the country.

Participants would be employed through job service providers, local councils and natural resource management groups to restore habitats, and on planting and restoring cultural heritage places.

Mr Hunt said in a statement the green army would "make a real difference to the environment", and 150 projects had already been committed, although no tenders have officially been issued.

But the explanatory memorandum for the laws released Wednesday revealed the program participants "will not be considered workers or employees for the purposes of various Commonwealth laws".

While it did not go further to explain which laws the workers would be exempt from, such an exemption could include standard workplace regulations such as health and safety.

Despite the discrepancy, a spokesman for Mr Hunt said the health and safety of green army participants was "of particular importance to the government".

He said the Environment Department would also work with service providers to create a risk management framework for the program, including work health and safety issues.

"Service providers will be required to work with project sponsors on risk plans for each individual project," the spokesman said.

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