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Victoria workers’ comp bill introduced as mental health claims soar  

The Victorian Government has introduced a bill into Parliament to revamp the state workers’ compensation scheme following rising financial pressures and increasing claims from mental health issues. 

“We have been very clear that WorkCover is fundamentally broken,” Minister for WorkSafe and the TAC Danny Pearson said last week. “These important changes will mean WorkCover can continue to support injured workers when they need it most.” 

The Government, which announced changes earlier this year, says claims liability has tripled over the past decade, mainly due to people staying on the scheme for longer and an increase in mental health issues. The scheme was designed more than 30 years ago with a focus on physical injuries, but mental injury now represents 16% of new claims. 

The bill introduces additional eligibility requirements for mental injury and an exclusion for work-related stress or burnout that has arisen from events that “may be considered usual or typical and reasonably expected to occur” in the course of a worker’s duties. 

Certain interpersonal conflict, workload pressure and long hours are not considered to be unusual or go beyond what is reasonably expected in the course of employment, Mr Pearson told Parliament. 

But mental injuries mainly caused by experiences such as bullying, harassment or discrimination will be covered and the exclusion won’t apply to workers in frontline and emergency services roles and other occupations with regular exposure to traumatic events as part of usual duties. 

The Government says the reforms bring Victoria into line with other states by having a whole-of-person impairment test for those on the scheme after two-and-a-half years, and offering workers with stress or burnout claims 13 weeks of provisional payments, while leaving frontline workers unaffected. 

Changes announced earlier this year included premium increases and the creation of a body called Return to Work Victoria, which will pilot improved prevention and return to work processes. It will liaise with unions, employers, mental health and occupational health specialists. 

The Victorian Trades Hall Council says the union movement rejects all changes that reduce access and support for injured workers or remove them from the scheme. 

“We want to see injured workers get back to work as soon as they’re able,” Secretary Luke Hilakari said. “Denying compensation to workers who are so stressed or so overworked that they need to access the WorkCover scheme is not the way to go about it.” 

 Victoria’s Opposition says WorkCover has been “haemorrhaging funds for years and requiring at least $1.3 billion in taxpayer bailouts” and the Government must demonstrate a clear pathway to get the scheme back in the black and get people back to work when able.

The WorkCover Scheme Modernisation Bill is expected to pass Parliament this year, with changes taking effect in the first quarter of 2024, the Government says.