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NSW workers’ comp COVID bill sent for review

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A NSW Parliamentary committee will review a proposed workers’ compensation change that would repeal a presumption that employees in essential areas such as healthcare caught COVID-19 while at work.

The Upper House voted for a committee to review the bill and report back on February 21, after Labor and crossbench politicians last week criticised plans to remove the protections introduced under Section 19B of the Workers Compensation Act 1987.

Greens MP David Shoebridge says the review is a “win for frontline workers” and will allow time to properly assess Government claims about the costs of the protections.

“While the government is trying to scare businesses with claims these protections will cost more than $600 million, the truth is that for the first 18 months of the epidemic the total cost of all COVID-related claims was less than $20 million,” he said.

Digital and Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello says no other state includes the same broad presumption, and the change aims to ensure the sustainability of the workers’ compensation scheme and limit premium rises.

Modelling has suggested the scheme could be hit with more than 25,000 extra claims over the coming year and small business average premiums could rise $950 if changes are not made, he says.

“If the projected influx of claims and notifications is received, they are likely to have a disproportionate effect on insurer operations, testing claims management responsiveness and negatively affecting return-to-work rates,” Mr Dominello told Parliament last week.

Sectors covered by the presumption include healthcare, education, retail, transport, emergency services, construction, disability, aged care, dining, and entertainment.

Business NSW CEO Daniel Hunter says the measure dates from early in the pandemic when so much was unknown, but now NSW Health will no longer list COVID-19 case locations, it’s no longer practicable.

“As COVID-19 becomes endemic and much of the population is exposed to the virus in social settings, it will be difficult and costly for an employer to prove it wasn’t caught in their workplace,” he said.

Workers affected by the removal of the presumption will retain the right to make a claim if they are able to demonstrate, as with any other workplace injury, that they contracted COVID-19 at work, the government says.

Unions NSW, which has started a petition calling on Premier Dominic Perrottet to drop the bill, says the additional protections ensure that for the first 21 days essential workers don’t have to go through bureaucratic hoops to prove where they contracted the disease.

“We know essential workers are most likely to contract COVID-19 at work,” it says.