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Comcare reforms split unions, employers

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The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) says the planned overhaul of Comcare will discriminate against injured workers, while the country’s biggest employers want the reform passed “in its entirety”.

“If the [reform] bill is passed, it would make Comcare the most punitive, and the most disadvantageous to injured workers, of any workers’ compensation scheme in the country, and by a long way,” the ACTU says in a submission to the Senate.

“The bill proposes radical changes to the Comcare scheme, with most of the measures designed to exclude injured workers from the scheme or to reduce compensation benefits for those who remain eligible.”

Proposed changes include caps on medical and legal costs, removing lump sum payments for secondary psychological injuries and a requirement to prove a strong link between employment and injuries.

Workers will receive professional care for the first three years of their injuries, with uncapped long-term or lifelong care to the catastrophically injured after that.

Injured employees will receive $5000 of medical expenses paid before they lodge a claim, and their employers will have immediate rehabilitation responsibilities.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union’s Construction and General Division WA Branch says the proposals will reduce protection to that of a “Third World country”.

“That is not something that the Parliament should be involved in,” it says in its submission.

But the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Licensees Association says the “long overdue” reforms offer a balanced approach to meeting workers and companies’ needs.

“The association considers that the bill should be passed in its entirety,” it says in its Senate submission. “Many of the existing provisions are no longer consistent with current working conditions, healthcare and rehabilitation principles.

“The proposed changes are necessary to improve scheme operation.”

The association represents some of the biggest companies in the country, which employ more than 40% of workers covered by the scheme.

Comcare provides workers’ compensation services to the federal and ACT governments and 160,000 employees of 33 corporations that self-insure, such as Commonwealth Bank, John Holland Group and Linfox.