Comcare changes to gut state workers’ compensation schemes
9th Jul 2014
State and territory-based workers’ compensation schemes risk being gutted as a result of changes to the Comcare scheme which have been examined by a Senate committee report, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.
Last night, the Senate Education and Employment Committee released its report into legislation currently before the House of Representatives, with Liberal Senators recommending the legislation be passed, with the Australian Labor Party and the Greens in furious dissent.
The legislation, the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 (Cth), will encourage employers registered in more than one state to move their workers out of state-based compensation schemes, and into the Comcare scheme, which provides inferior support to workers who face serious injury.
While initially justified as a measure “cutting red tape”, in reality the new measures would not only slash worker’s rights but would undercut state-based schemes and see premiums soar: a fact recognised by the Senate Committee report.
“The proposed changes to Comcare will not only throw state and territory-based workers’ compensation schemes into fiscal chaos, but will also see injured workers left out in the cold,” ALA National President Geraldine Collins said.
“If this legislation is passed, employers may move their workers into the Comcare scheme, thus leaving huge holes of unfunded liability in state schemes which is likely to result in state-based premiums soaring.”
“Opening up the Comcare scheme will be disastrous for workers. Comcare has no meaningful access to common law damages for injuries caused by the negligence of an employer. The scheme is burdensome, paternalistic, and bureaucratic for workers and employers. Its design means premiums have to go up unless benefits are slashed ,” Ms Collins said.
“Comcare also has no meaningful workplace health and safety regime. Work environments will develop where lives are lost and permanently damaged with little oversight and enforcement of workplace health and safety. It is a fundamentally flawed minimalist scheme. Migration en masse will strike at the heart of the financial stability of state schemes, which are mostly running fairly,” Ms Collins said.
“The Australian Lawyers Alliance urges that the proposed changes be scrapped and that this legislation should not be passed by the Senate.”
Ms Collins questioned the validity of key recommendations in the report, including one which justified the implementation of proposed changes simply because they had previously been recommended in reviews stretching back to 2004.
“The Australian Lawyers Alliance supports action that is committed to harmonising state and territory workers compensation coverage. The ALA resists any expansion of the Comcare scheme as it is incapable of delivering fair outcomes,” Ms Collins said.
The Australian Lawyers Alliance's submission to the Senate Education and Employment Committee can be viewed on the Parliament of Australia website here.
About the changes:
The Safety, Compensation and Rehabilitation Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 was introduced in March 2014.
An overview of some of the changes:
- Any corporation which employs staff in more than one state will be able to apply for a Comcare licence, meaning that the employer can migrate out of the relevant state or territory workers’ compensation scheme.
- Workers injured while on a recess break outside of their physical place of employment will receive nothing.
- Workers who are injured below a threshold of 10% whole person impairment will be unable to sue their employer for negligence. As a result, workers’ safety will be threatened.
- Most recently famous for the ‘is injury during sex a work injury’ case, Comcare has been struggling financially for some time.
- Comcare is also renowned for its slowness and inadequacy in processing workers’ claims. In 2011/12, Comcare finalised only 5 legal proceedings, where 6.5 per 1000 employees were seriously injured. In Victoria, which had a similar serious injury rate of 7.6 per 1000 employees, WorkSafe Victoria finalised 116 legal proceedings. Casting thousands of workers into the Comcare scheme will jeopardise workers’ lives further as they seek justice.
Further information about Comcare can be accessed on our website: http://www.lawyersalliance.com.au/ourwork/comcare