Tasmania’s workers compensation changes pass

It is easy to forget that workers compensation is clicking along during this intense period of analysis of OHS laws.  Workers compensation legislation passed through Tasmania’s House of Assembly this week (it still needs to get through the Legislative Council).  The Minister for Workplace relations, Lisa Singh, highlighted the following components of the changes in a media release on 6 November 2009.

“The key reforms will:

  • Improve access to common law damages for compensation by reducing the whole of person impairment threshold from 30% to 20%;
  • Amend the first step-down to 90% of normal weekly earnings rather than 85% of normal weekly earnings;
  • Delay the operation of the first step-down, so that it comes into effect at 26 weeks of incapacity rather than 13 weeks;
  • Streamline the management of injury and illness to deliver better health and return to work outcomes for injured workers and lower costs to employers;
  • Foster and reinforce a return to work culture among employers, workers and other stakeholders;
  • Provide greater income security for injured workers by increasing the duration and reducing the “step-down” of weekly compensation payments for injured workers;
  • Increase lump sum compensation up to $250,000 for permanent impairment or death to levels more comparable to those provided in other states and territories;
  • Provide additional financial incentives for workers and employers to participate in rehabilitation.”

The reforms are based on the Government’s response to the recommendations of Victorian consultant Alan Clayton and the Return to Work and Injury Management Model developed by the WorkCover Tasmania Board.

Alan has been a prominent advisor on workers compensation to governments around Australia for some time.  His Tasmanian review and recommendations were in 2007 and are available online.  The Government’s response is also available.

The Minister has said

“With the range of views that were put forward during consultation I am confident that this legislation strikes the right balance of fairness for workers and their families and support for employers and business.”

Simon Cocker, of Unions Tasmania, said in response to the Bill:

“The Workplace Relations Minister is to be congratulated for pursuing these improvements which will ensure that injured workers are better supported when they return to work and are paid more appropriate rates of compensation while off work.”

“The step-down provisions that currently operate have been shown to be unfair and place injured workers and their families under financial stress at a time when they are often struggling to cope with the impact of a serious injury.”

“Delaying the step down and softening its financial impact is an improvement.”

The Australian Government paid considerable attention to the Victorian OHS Act  because it was the most recent review of that legislation.  If the government continues this trend, the Tasmanian changes may be very significant for the rest of the country.

Kevin Jones

UPDATE: 19 November 2009

Tasmanian workers’ compensation laws passed the Legislative Council on 18 November 2009.

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