Proposed changes to Comcare a further attack on injured workers

25th Mar 2015

Amendments introduced today by the Federal Government to the national workers’ compensation scheme are a further attack on the rights of the nation’s injured workers, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.

ALA National President Andrew Stone said the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment Bill 2015 only served to further weaken the existing rights of injured workers in the already poorly-functioning Comcare national compensation scheme.

“It is well known that the Comcare scheme has long been a poorly functioning scheme,” Mr Stone said. “It is burdensome for both workers and employers, with no meaningful and effective workplace health and safety regime.”

“Yet the amendments introduced today do nothing to improve that standing – they are another unfair attack on rights that will see injured workers and their families further disadvantaged,” Mr Stone said.

“Mr Abetz likes trotting out a few isolated examples of extreme claims, but he doesn’t like to look at the vast majority of workers who will lose benefits due to the unfair changes he is proposing.”

“These amendments have been held out as a means of improving return-to-work and health outcomes for injured workers, but this is not the case,” Mr Stone said.

“The reality is that the changes proposed will make it more difficult for employees to get the care and rehabilitation they need, compounded by injured workers also facing greater pressure to re-enter the workforce prematurely.”

“This includes through proposed harsher rehabilitation requirements, a reduction in the current weekly wage loss payments, and the introduction of a harsher test workers will have to go through in proving work was a significant contributing factor to their injury,” Mr Stone said.

Mr Stone said the vast majority of injured workers with permanent impairments would also have their current entitlement significantly reduced. 

“A person with a permanent 10% whole person impairment would have their current entitlement reduced by about nearly two-thirds to a single lump sum payment of $8,750,” Mr Stone said.

“Unfortunately, what appears to be unfolding with regards to Comcare is a two-hit strategy on workers, with today’s amendments following earlier proposals by the Federal Government to open-up the Comcare scheme, which are currently before the Senate.

“If that Bill passes, it will allow more employers to push their workers into the highly ineffective Comcare scheme,” Mr Stone said. “This will not only disadvantage workers and lead to a reduction in workplace health and safety standards, but will also significantly impact state-based workers’ compensation schemes, and in doing so, put smaller businesses and rural businesses not covered by Comcare at risk of increased premiums.

“It also has to be expected that authorities such as Centrelink, Medicare and the NDIS will come under increased fiscal pressure if these changes go through, with these agencies likely to have to shoulder the cost of assisting injured workers and their families left wanting as a result of being forced into the ineffective Comcare scheme,” Mr Stone said.

“The ALA calls for both Comcare bills to be opposed in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. We also call for the federal government to go back to the drawing board with a more consultative approach to solutions that can work to assist both injured workers and employers,” Mr Stone said.

Tags: Workers' rights WorkCover Comcare