ALP releases workers comp policy as WA election nears

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ALP releases workers comp policy as WA election nears

Despite this week’s landmark Federal Court decision that BHP had not breached the Workplace Relations Act 1996 by offering individual WA workplace agreements (see previous story), industrial relations is not expected to be a key issue in the West Australian election on February 10.

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Despite this week’s landmark Federal Court decision that BHP had not breached the Workplace Relations Act 1996 by offering individual WA workplace agreements (see previous story), industrial relations is not expected to be a key issue in the West Australian election on February 10.

Labor’s WA labour relations spokesperson, John Kobelke, told WorkplaceInfo there would be no official launch of Labor’s IR policy (see previous story) as it was already ‘out there’ and was not seen as a key election issue.

Labor also recently issued its proposed reform agenda for the state’s workers’ compensation system. Its directions statement says under the Court Government benefits for injured workers have been ‘significantly reduced, long delays are now almost standard and employers are struggling with higher premiums.

‘On top of this, the Government is treating the workers’ compensation system as an avenue for increasing taxation, earning $33 million a year in stamp duty on premiums.’

The five key steps Labor will take to reform the system include:

  • greater efficiencies across the system through structural reforms and a reduction in bureaucratic procedures;
  • gaining the advantages from more competitive market forces, particularly between underwriters;
  • minimising fraud and over-servicing;
  • more responsive management, to achieve ongoing improvements and greater stability within the system; and
  • restoring public confidence in the system by having it seen to be working efficiently and fairly.

The discussion paper avoids detailed proposals ‘that cannot be adequately costed at this stage’. It cautions that certain areas of the planned reform are conditional on full cost analyses.

Prevention is a key plank of the policy. In a link with the IR policy, Labor has promised to shake up occupational health and safety by boosting WorkSafe WA’s inspectorate role.

The party is also calling for a review of WorkSafe and WorkCover’s reporting systems, saying statistics are currently unreliable and inaccurate.

Labor plans to open up greater access to common law for injured workers. It says issues with the current ‘second gateway’, whereby those workers whose disability is between 16% and 30% can elect to take common law action within six months but must then forego statutory benefits, penalises these workers. The burden of having to support themselves throughout long and costly court cases, with a cap at the end of $256,490 is unfair, says Labor.

‘The percentage injury used as thresholds are arbitrary and bear no relationship to the economic loss suffered by the injured employee,’ the paper says. ‘An injury may deny a manual worker any chance of ever again earning a reasonable income. Yet a different employee incurring an identical injury may not have his or her long-term income earning capacity affected.’

Changes to benefits are also planned, with the ALP considering legislative changes to enable ‘gap’ coverage for workers whose earnings are reduced to the $870.10 per week cap. The step down after four weeks to 85% of this amount would also change, applying only to individual contracts under a Gallop Government.

Compliance will be examined, to review WorkCover’s statistics that 21% of workplaces inspected had no valid workers’ compensation insurance. This figure is based on inspections of companies that fail to reinsure, or new enterprises. The ALP says it hopes to pick up on under-insurers.

Insurers  would be regulated through the formation of an Insurance Regulatory Board which would:

  • award licences, with the power to discipline and revoke them;
  • set premium rates;
  • receive and report on complaints about the system; and 
  • establish effective monitoring procedures.

Under this scheme, employers who had failed to meet minimum safety standards would face penalties of either higher premiums, or committing to major health and safety initiatives. Conversely, employers with good health and safety records would be rewarded by rebates.

Many other aspects of the system also need overhaul, Labor says. It would:

  • change referral responses and times in vocational rehabilitation;
  • allow employees legal representation in WorkCover’s dispute resolution processes;
  • review the role and operation of Medical Assessment Panels;
  • reform dispute resolution procedures with a new structure to make determinations quicker and fairer;
  • reduce total medical costs, and prevent ‘doctor shopping’ to support a particular legal case;
  • restructure WorkCover to make it more efficient and open; and 
  • reduce the tax take from stamp duty on workers’ compensation insurance – if there is other revenue to replace it.

 

 

 
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