Compensation change won’t help businesses or workers says Harris

David Harris MP, Shadow Minister for the Central Coast

Member for Wyong and Shadow Minister for Central Coast, David Harris, has labelled a Bill just passed by the Legislative Assembly which will see COVID-19 victims having to prove they contracted the virus in the workplace to be eligible for workers compensation as “an absolute joke”.

The Workers Compensation Amendment Bill 2021 will repeal changes made to the Workers Compensation Act in 2020 in light of COVID-19 but has yet to get the numbers in the Legislative Council (Upper House).

Harris said the Government was trying to strip workers compensation protections for workers who contract COVOD-19 at their workplace, while at the same time not even helping small business that will still have to work with staff claims arising from COVID-related illness.

Harris said the Bill was passed in the Lower House by just one vote and was opposed by Labor and crossbench MPs.

“This is a cruel blow to the frontline workers who got us through the Delta outbreak – including those who work in retail and disability,” Harris said.

“Proving you have contracted the virus at work can be a legally challenging, stressful task – particularly for those in frontline teaching, transport and service professions that are at higher risk of exposure every day.

“This is nothing more than a cynical move to make workers, including in retail and disability, pay for Dominic Perrottet’s documented mismanagement of the workers compensation system when he was at the helm of iCare.

“Making it difficult for workers to access compensation is about this Government making workers pay for repairing the balance sheet of its scandal-ridden iCare insurance scheme.

“Is there going to be a new genomic sequence tracking system next to the COVID testing centre where they can fill in a form and say, ‘Hello, I have got COVID; will you put this through and prove where I got COVID from because otherwise I cannot claim workers compensation’?

“That is an absolute joke.”

The Government claims the Bill will save small businesses from “bearing the brunt of massive insurance premium increases over the next 12 months” by returning the Workers Compensation scheme to the way it was before the pandemic.

Business NSW Regional Director, Paula Martin, said repealing the changes was timely.

“I have been speaking with small business owners across the Central Coast who are worried about the presumption of workers testing positive to COVID,” Martin said.

“As things currently stand, businesses face a workers compensation premium hike of more than $900 to cover the presumption that any worker who tests positive to COVID caught the virus while at work.

“We need to remember that small businesses are already battling with increased costs of reopening like staffing and supply chain price hikes.

“Increased premiums just add more pressure for our exhausted business owners.

“It is good to see this issue being addressed as there is a lot of confusion and hidden costs absorbed in administration and other legal administration brought about by this provision.”

Minister for Customer Service, Victor Dominello, has called on Upper House Labor and the crossbench to support the legislation, which he says is “designed to help mum and dad businesses”.

“Failure to pass this legislation will put small businesses across NSW at risk of being hit with insurance premium increases of up to $950,” Dominello said.

“Changes to the Act were made in May 2020, when very little was known about COVID-19 and its transmission and are no longer appropriate.

“The amendments included a presumption that workers who contracted COVID-19 had done so at work.

“Workers will still be entitled to make a workers compensation claim if they contract COVID-19 in their workplace when the legislation is repealed.

“The legislation before the Legislative Council simply returns the Workers Compensation scheme to the way it was before the pandemic, treating COVID-19 in exactly the same way as every other workplace injury or acquired illness.”

Terry Collins