Senate should reject proposed changes to Comcare scheme
24th Jul 2014
The Senate’s Education and Employment Standing Committee recently released its report dealing with proposed legislative changes to the Comcare workers compensation scheme: the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 (Cth).
The recommendations of the Senators were split, with Coalition Committee Senators in favour of passing the subject Bill and Labor and Green Committee Senators recommending the rejection of the Bill. No cross-bench Senators were involved in the Committee hearing or reporting process.
The Comcare scheme covers Commonwealth and ACT government public servants, and employees of 30 corporations who have satisfied the present legislative requirements to be granted a self-insurance licence.
The Federal Government wants to allow a larger number of national private sector employers to enter the Comcare scheme by changing the licence requirements. This risks weakening the respective state and territory workers compensation schemes if and when large employers make such a shift, taking their premiums with them. The rationale for allowing this shift is to reduce operating costs for large national employers, but would come at the expense of smaller employers left in the state and territory schemes and would also reduce individual workers’ rights. Those private sector workers who move to the Comcare scheme would immediately lose access to their current meaningful common law rights, even if their injury is caused by their employer’s negligence.
Commonwealth and ACT public servants are already in that poor position with regard to common law negligence claims for work injuries. Those same public servants, and any new workers to the Comcare scheme, stand to be worse off by losing coverage for injuries which occur when they are temporarily absent from their physical workplace during a recess.
The Federal Government also seeks to further isolate Comcare scheme employees by removing compensation coverage for workers who are seriously injured or die if it is alleged to be caused by serious and wilful misconduct. This coverage exists in every other jurisdiction, and correctly so. It is very difficult for a seriously injured or dead worker to respond to any employer allegation of serious misconduct that might be thrown up in order to deny simple workers compensation claim for the family left to deal with the results of a serious work injury or fatality.
More worryingly, it is clear from the Senate Report that the Government is planning further changes to entitlements available under the Comcare scheme, changes which they have not publicly disclosed. Until such time as that occurs, it is simply inappropriate to open up the Comcare scheme to new employers. As such, the current Bill before the Senate should be defeated in full.
Geoff Wilson is the head of Maurice Blackburn's Comcare National Practice Group, assisting injured workers with Comcare claims, reconsiderations, AAT appeals and court proceedings. He tweets @GeoffWilsonMB.
The views and opinions expressed in these articles are the authors' and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).