“The conference inside is a bit of a sham” claimed Brian Boyd, Victorian Trades Hall Secretary at the first meeting into the harmonisation of Australia’s workers compensation laws.
“It’s really another hidden agenda about trying to harmonise workers comp after we fully know already, they’ve messed up harmonisation of OHS.”
Boyd (above right) and Geoff Fary (above left), Assistance Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, are both convinced that the OHS harmonisation process has not worked and therefore argue that the Government should not proceed with workers’ compensation. The OHS process has yet to be completed and the trade union movement has been an integral part of the process since the very beginning, as they are with the process for workers’ compensation. It would be interesting to find out the reasons for the “failure”.
The unions have complained to the conference about limited access to closed sessions. The consultation process should be open, transparent and inclusive but it seems a little precious for the unions to complain about limited access when they are already at the big table. There are many others interested in the reform process who were not included or not invited.
Geoff Fary stated that a condition of continuing union involvement is that no worker will be worse off under any new workers compensation regimes (see below). This is reassuring and, in other political spheres within the last five years, has managed to gain support for IR and OHS reforms. However, the commitment seems doomed before it starts.
Workers have as many workers compensation jurisdictions as they did with OHS. Each State provides differing levels of cover, care, support, rehabilitation services and premium. Which one do you choose for the benchmark?
In OHS the unions chose New South Wales and it is only the unions who are continuing to push for NSW OHS components at a national level. The negotiation is finished in the eyes of the Federal Workplace Relations Minister, Julia Gillard, and the leaders in all States other than Western Australia. [Gillard is spending this week in WA talking with her political colleagues]
Boyd spoke in support of the comments from Dr Helen Sutcliffe who said in the conference that workers are often subjected to a stigma over their injuries and that argy-bargy on workers’ compensation can compound this issues. Sutcliffe apparently spoke about the complexity of the return-to-work (RTW) process, the absence of risk assessment in the RTW process and the risk of being re-injured by returning to work too early.
Fary spoke to the crowd following Boyd and was more political in his views. He said that the trade union movement would not be
“…railroaded into a position where we are seen to be participating and supporting a flawed process that would result in a reduction in workers’ benefits and workers’ entitlements.”
Fary provided some statistics that should give pause for thought to many in the OHS and workers’ compensation sectors, as well as the union movement itself.
“…. seven hundred thousand of our fellow Australians suffer an injury, illness or disease as a result of going to work but the vast majority of those do not seek, and are not granted, workers’ compensation benefits as a result of that injury, illness or disease.”
Without knowing what is meant by an injury it is difficult to get a clear perspective on these statistics. Injuries could include first aid incidents or some other minor short-term condition. Hopefully more information on the category of injury will be forthcoming.
Fary stated there are two conditions for continuing union participation in the negotiations.
“For us to be in discussions…. two things are pivotal and critical. The first is that we want from all governments…an absolute, cast-iron guarantee that no worker… would be worse off as a consequence of moving [forward on workers’ compensation harmonisation].
Number two is that there needs to be a full, frank and open process of consultation with the people most concerned… workers…and unions.”
The difficulty of a “cast-iron guarantee” on worker benefits is discussed above and is, frankly, a big ask even though the aim is understandable and worthy.
The second condition is an easy one for SafetyAtWorkBlog to support – an open consultation on the harmonisation of workers’ compensation. At today’s union protest, the closed and secretive nature of the conference was criticised but no justification for the secrecy has been provided? Names of those attending have not been released. No schedule for further conferences has been made public.
The Federal Government is well aware that workers’ compensation is a politically charged issue. Recent experience in the South Australian election has shown that. Perhaps this is why they are exercising such tight control on information to the public, stakeholders and media. The risk with this strategy is that for harmonisation to work the government needs a broad “buy-in” to the consultation process and support for the aims (whatever they may be). This current strategy risks generating a debilitating “conspiranoia” that could jeopardise the process.