What 'cutting red tape' will do to injured workers nationwide
19th Mar 2014
The Federal government’s proposal to allow employers to shift workers onto the Comcare system will take away vital support for injured workers and dilute health and safety protections nationwide, the Australian Lawyers Alliance said today.
“The Comcare system is one of the worst performing workers compensation schemes in the country in terms of support for injured workers,” said Geraldine Collins, National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.
“This proposal will rip off workers across Australia.”
The Comcare scheme was originally designed for Commonwealth employees, usually white collar office workers and whose work therefore generally identified as being at low risk of severe physical injury.
“Traditional blue collar workers, such as those working in manufacturing, transport and construction will lose rights and protection. The risk of injury in such labour intensive industries is incredibly high.
“The Comcare system is not designed for workers in these industries. It is forcing a square peg in a round hole, and cutting workers off from their previous entitlements, with no choice in the matter.
“Giving employers the ability to shunt their workers onto a federal scheme renowned for its restrictive benefits and for poor performance in the vital goal of helping injured workers return to work, is like giving a fox the key to the hen house,” said Ms Collins.
“Members of the Australian Lawyers Alliance have represented many individuals who have suffered traumatic injuries on worksites. These are not trivial injuries. Serious injury is all too often caused by an employer failing to have or enforce a safe system of work. The injured worker is often the victim of an employer cutting corners.
“Ironically, these reforms give the power to employers, who are usually the negligent party, to elect for their workers to receive less compensation, and poorer payouts. It’s essentially allowing employers to tell people, “If you are injured on a worksite by our negligence, you may receive about a couple of hundred thousand dollars less than you would have to help you with your medical costs, emotional trauma and lost earnings, because the Abbott government sold you out,” said Ms Collins.
“The move to broaden the Comcare system is poor policy. This could very well lead to increases in premiums for small to medium size employers in state and territory compensation schemes nationwide, to compensate for the movement of large employers into the Comcare scheme.
“While it is not evident as yet as to the opinion of State governments, this looks like policy on the run to appease big business in a cost cutting exercise. Running with scissors and spruiking “cutting the red tape” is not a comprehensive workers compensation policy. It is an excuse for one.”
While employers being given the option to self-insure under Comcare have been justified as ‘cutting red tape’ the proposal fails to recognise the role of State governments when it comes to enforcement of health and safety standards.
A review of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988, which underpins the Comcare system, was conducted by Peter Hanks QC, and published in March 2013. The review made over 100 recommendations to improve the scheme, many of which remain outstanding.
“While cited as “cutting red tape” for employers, what must be acknowledged is that this proposal will actually cut the rights of employees, with no other option available to them.
“All Australians should be concerned about these proposals. Your rights could be slashed in the future and excused as cutting ‘red tape’.”