A Federal Government Bill to strip injured workers of their rights at work will force workers onto welfare and weaken the health and safety obligations of employers under the Comcare scheme.
The Government dominated Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee on Tuesday tabled its report into the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Improving the Comcare Scheme) Bill 2015.
Head of Slater and Gordon’s Comcare Practice Rachael James said the Bill was grossly unfair and in some parts inhumane – it would leave injured workers without any avenues to seek support, health care or compensation even if they were injured as a result of their employer’s negligence.
“This Bill is blatant cost shifting from the Comcare schemes on to the families of injured workers and the welfare and our public hospital systems,” Ms James said.
“The Government has tried unfairly to single out Commonwealth public servants but the realities are that the removal of rights proposed in the Bill would have far reaching consequences on our Australian Federal Police, health workers and blue collar workers in a wide variety of industries”
“What’s more, the Federal Government has declared its intent to open up the Comcare scheme nationally which means workers across Australia currently covered by State schemes would also lose rights,” Ms James said.
Ms James said the primary objectives of Comcare should be to oversee safe and healthy workplaces for workers covered by the scheme, ensure injured workers are support by timely medical care, rehabilitation and assistance to return to work where possible; and provide fair and equitable benefits and access to dispute resolution processes.
“This Bill fails on every single one of those measures,” Ms James said.
The list of cuts to workers’ rights is long. Some of the proposed changes include:
- Dramatic reductions to lump sum compensation
- Sweeping changes to eligibility requirements will mean many injured workers are locked out of the scheme entirely.
- A change to the definition of ‘injury’ to further exclude employees from their eligibility.
- Significant reduction of weekly loss of earnings payments
- Expansion of sanctions against workers, including the removal of income and medical support if a worker fails to meet their obligations;
- Employers will make final decisions on return to work - employers will have the right to impose health related work capacity decisions and workers will have no independent right of review.
- Severe job search requirements for injured workers – if the employer says they can offer no ‘suitable employment’ the injured worker will need to take up self-employment or find work with a new employer, which is unrealistic for some injured workers, particularly in regional Australia.
“There is absolutely no justification for destroying the Comcare scheme and we advocate that the Bill be withdrawn,” Ms James said.
“If passed, this Bill will set Australia’s workers compensation laws back more than 100 years.
“On behalf of the injured workers we represent we are appealing to the humanity of Senators to reject this bill.”