Opening Comcare gates will trade off workers' rights
11th Jun 2014
The Federal government is planning to trade off the rights of Australian workers via opening the gates to its Comcare scheme, the Australian Lawyers Alliance said today.
The proposed changes, which are currently being investigated by the Senate Education and Employment Committee, were initially justified as ‘cutting red tape’.
However, in reality, it will be the rights of workers that face a slashing: employers registered in more than one state will be given the green light to move their workers into the scheme, which provides inferior support to workers who face serious injury.
“If these changes as passed, we could see a flood of employers signing up to reduce their employees’ current rights,” said Geraldine Collins, National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.
“This will impact on all Australians, as a speedy migration into Comcare will leave state and territory based workers’ compensation schemes vulnerable to employers abandoning them. This will also impact premiums.”
“If these changes are passed, premiums will rise, injured workers will be left out in the cold, and state and territory governments will become involved in a federalist fight.”
“This is a very serious issue.”
“You will have the situation where severely injured workers in the transport, construction, mining and agricultural industries will be treated like injured office workers, who are far less likely to suffer such severe injuries.”
“These industries are the backbone of the Australian economy. Why does the Federal government intend to trade out the rights of workers who are most at risk?”
“The Comcare scheme was originally designed for white collar public servants,” said Ms Collins.
“Under these changes, workers are left vulnerable to the whim of their employers in their choice of whether to migrate to a different scheme. In this decision, the worker has no power to challenge it.”
In addition, the rights of workers who will be transitioned into the scheme will face a rude shock with a whittling away of basic recognised entitlements.
“Any financial benefit to employers is questionable, given that Comcare’s CEO has recently forecast a 20 per cent increase to its premiums.”
“In essence, the full social, economic and legal impact has not been appropriately appraised,” said Ms Collins.
“The Australian Lawyers Alliance urges that the proposed changes be scrapped.”
“Instead, there should be a renewed focus on harmonising State and Territory schemes’ claims processes, something which will benefit both employers operating across State boundaries, and workers.”
“The Federal government also has the option of a wholesale rewrite of Comcare to restore meaningful common law rights for injuries caused in unsafe workplaces. This would enhance workplace health and safety outcomes, provide the fiscal finality to keep a lid on premiums blowing out, limit future imposts on our stretched social security system, and facilitate dignified closure and self-determination for injured workers.”
“This would be a far more prudent, economically viable solution.”
In 2007, a moratorium was put in place to cease the migration of employers out of state based compensation schemes.
“The moratorium should be re-established,” said Ms Collins.
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