VTHC /ACTU Rally about national ‘harmonisation’ of Workers Compensation - Not again!

30 March 2010
By Brian Boyd, VTHC Secretary

Today the federal government's Safe Work Australia (SWA) bureaucracy began a two day national forum on the future of workers compensation.    At the request of the ACTU’s Workers Compensation Committee last week, the VTHC’s WorkCover Committee hastily called a protest outside the forum venue, the Windsor Hotel in Melbourne.

The ACTU Assistant Secretary Geoff Fary and VTHC Secretary Brian Boyd addressed the protest after the main presentations had been made at the forum.

Unions Queensland Secretary Ron Monahan and Unions South Australian Secretary Janet Giles also attended the protest.

The key union movement concern is that since the Federal government has already made a mess of the proposed national harmonisation of OHS laws, why would the union movement entertain the harmonisation of Workers Compensation laws! 

It is true that part of the brief of SAFE WORK AUSTRALIA is “to develop national policy relating to workers compensation”.

However it has other key functions relating to the draft model OHS legislation that haven’t even been tackled never mind finalised, such as:

Developing model OHS regulations, model OHS codes of practice and policy on OHS compliance and enforcement.   As well it is supposed to establish effective OHS data collection, conduct OHS research and revise the current National OHS Strategy (2002 – 2012).   The list goes on.

The VTHC Secretary reported to the protest that the union delegates inside the forum had protested about union representatives being excluded from the “closed” sessions and that ACTU Assistant Secretary Geoff Fary had strongly made the point that with OHS harmonisation on the nose, why would the unions want to even consider harmonisation of Workers Compensation law.

He also reported that Dr Helen Sutcliffe from the Workers Occupational Health Centre at Melbourne Trades Hall had emphasised out to the forum that before the government goes down the so called harmonisation track, in order to help employers   cut red tape, it should look at the more deep seated issues affecting injured workers.   Dr Sutcliffe pointed out that there was still a ‘stigma-type’ culture surrounding injured workers, especially when it comes to the Return to Work issue.   For example there was often no risk assessment of proposed duties conducted before RTW happens.   This often leads to more injury! Terminations also regularly occur, leaving many workers hanging out to dry.

A key forum speaker Dr Mary Wyatt told the audience:

  • Return to Work is important but is not going well. 
  • Harmonisation, as it has been discussed so far, won’t improve return to work.
  • Instead the creation of harmonised tools and techniques to aid the RTW process is an opportunity not to be missed.

Facilitator Barry Sherriff admitted that Dr Wyatt’s data on how RTW was failing injured workers was “damning”.

Geoff Fary told the protest that the campaign for justice for injured workers will continue and the “bottom line” will always be no worker should be worse off, if the Federal Government persists with another harmonisation agenda.

Legal advice received recently by the VTHC suggests that the Rudd /Gillard government have the issue of harmonising workers compensation ‘on a list’ for the next term of government, following the next federal election.