Coal union wants 78 weeks accident pay

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Coal union wants 78 weeks accident pay

The NSW Branch of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) wants all workers in the state’s coal industry who are on workers compensation benefits to be entitled to 78 weeks accident pay.

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The NSW Branch of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) wants all workers in the state’s coal industry who are on workers compensation benefits to be entitled to 78 weeks accident pay. 

The union has applied to the NSWIRC for a common rule award requiring the payment of the accident pay to employees ‘working in connection with, the coal mining industry in NSW’. 

The claim

NSW workers are currently entitled to 26 weeks workers compensation payments based on their actual rate of pay after an accident, following which they are paid 90% of their average wage, capped at $235.20 per week.

Under the CFMEU claim the actual wage would be paid for 18 months by the workers compensation insurer for the coal industry, Coal Mines Insurance Pty Ltd (CMI). The first 39 weeks would  be paid at the same rate as sick leave, and the second 39 weeks with the payment made up to the classification rate on top of the legislated amount available to all workers. 

Currently the only employees in the coal industry with the 78 week standard are those employed under the federal Coal Mining (Production and Engineering Award). This relates mainly to mining workers. 

The CFMEU says it has made the application because of this anomaly – some employees are entitled to up to 78 weeks and others only up to 26 weeks.  Accident pay is sometimes called 'make-up pay'.  

Industrial factors

The union also says the current roping-in process is too sluggish to resolve this disparity.  

Another key reason is the expectation that the Howard Government will further simplify federal awards and that this application is a method of preserving and expanding conditions under state awards. 

Because the coal industry used to have its own Coal Industry Tribunal to handle industrial matters and award changes until 1995, when the industry was transferred to the IRC, various special arrangements were made that do not apply to other industries. 

As well the increasing use of contractors for such matters as maintenance means that some workers on a mine site have different entitlements to others. 

Employer opposition

Employer groups are opposing the application. They are concerned that it will set a precedent for other industries, particularly the construction industry which has similarly dangerous working conditions. 

It would also potentially provide for an increase in the general standards of accident pay in NSW. 

Initially it was feared that the application would expand the entitlement to all workers associated with the coal industry, such as office workers.  

Although the claim has since been amended so that this is not the case, employers still consider the application goes well beyond covering only mine workers. 

In a submission to the NSWIRC the NSW Minerals Council says the application is so far reaching that ‘the employers and employees who will be affected by [it] are unknown’. 

Alleged anomaly

The union also claimed that the CMI had confirmed that there were at least 2,623 employees who ‘would receive only the statutory minimum entitlement to accident pay in the event they are injured at work’. 

‘These employees were originally not identified, nor were their employers, nor was the work they perform, nor the industry in which they perform that work or the location or locations at which the work is performed’. 

In the original claim the union stated that: ‘A significant number of employees in the coal industry in NSW are not bound by any industrial award or agreement’. 

Small employers

Other employer associations such as Australian Business Limited (ABL) say that this application will affect ‘mum and dad’ employers providing a service to the coal industry who already have adequate workers compensation arrangements in place for their employees. 

The terms currently being suggested by the CFMEU are ‘unworkable and confusing’ according to a statement by ABL. 

‘There is already a federal award in place that looks after mineworkers and contains references to accident pay,’ the statement said. 

‘ABL members are concerned these types of applications may lead to the introduction of new awards which may inadvertently apply to employees of contractors and other employers who already have adequate conditions in place for their employees.’ 

Related

Workers compensation - general information

Accident pay and 'allowable award matter' 

 
 

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