2.1 The bill received a mixed response from submitters
2.2 All submitters were generally supportive of the establishment of nationally
consistent workers’ compensation standards. Some submitters voiced concerns
that the Comcare scheme was not equipped to manage the occupational work health
and safety risks of an increased workload,
and that the bill would reduce the rights and entitlements of Australian
speaking, concerns brought to the committee's attention centred on eligibility
to the Comcare scheme and exclusions of access to workers' compensation.
this chapter the committee addresses stakeholder concerns and outlines its
Eligibility to the Comcare scheme
amendments under schedules 1 and 2 of the bill would operate to expand the
Comcare scheme and provide greater consistency with respect to workers'
compensation across Australia.
2.6 The amendments under schedule 1 would amend the Safety,
Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (SRC Act) to remove the
'competition test' and introduce a 'national employer' test for licence
Under the current 'competition test' eligibility to join the Comcare scheme is
confined to Commonwealth authorities, privatised Commonwealth authorities and
corporations in competition with either.
Under the proposed 'national employer' test a corporation that has employer
obligations in two or more Australian jurisdictions, assuming it satisfies the
other requirements of the SRC Act, could obtain a licence under the SRC Act,
bringing all of its employees under a single workers' compensation
amendments under schedule 2 would amend the SRC Act to allow 'group employer
licences' to be granted where at least one corporation in a group of
corporations is a 'national employer.' The introduction of 'group
employer licences' will reduce red tape and costs for Australian corporations
and 'recognises that
groups of interrelated corporations often share return-to-work and work health
and safety systems within the group.'
The expansion of the Comcare scheme
submitters objected to schedules 1 and 2 of the bill, submitting that
harmonisation of the state and territory schemes is a better approach to a
national scheme, as opposed to the expansion of the Comcare scheme.
submitters expressed serious concerns about the potential expansion of the
Comcare scheme as a result of the 'national employer' test.
Some submitters raised reservations about the definition of 'national employer'
not setting a minimum number of employees required in an Australian
jurisdiction for self-insurer eligibility purposes.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions
(ACTU) also argued that: '[g]roup licences are of particular concern as small
employers, are, in general, not particularly equipped to administer a
submitters registered strong support for the introduction of the 'national
The National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA) submitted that:
the requirements of various jurisdictions not only
significantly cost businesses many additional thousands of dollars when
compared with a single national scheme, but additionally that multi state
jurisdiction led to serious inequities for employee compensation within the
same organisation across different state legislations.
Department of Education's (department) rationale for opening up the Comcare
scheme is to reduce compliance costs around processes.
If you are a national employer, the Productivity Commission
said that it would cost you millions of dollars if you are trying to comply
with six different workers compensation schemes. The administrative costs of
that were very expensive. So it reduces costs but it is also about efficiency.
the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) emphasised how the
proposed 'national employer' test would provide employers operating in multiple
states the opportunity to adopt a national approach to the management of
workers' compensation in their businesses.
Comcare argued that 'national companies outside the Comcare scheme have to
navigate the complexity of fragmented state and territory regulatory and
insurance systems,' whereas workers under the Comcare scheme 'have common
coverage and entitlements regardless of where they live or work within
[A]t the moment a worker can get injured in one state
and get different compensation, yet a worker with exactly the same injury in
another state will get a different arrangement. So at the moment a worker can
get different benefits, different step-downs, but still have exactly the same
injury. So there is some inequity in that.
Impact on state and territory
workers' compensation schemes
generally supportive of a nationally consistent workers' compensation scheme, a
number of submitters brought to the committee's attention concerns about the
ramifications of the expansion of Comcare on state and territory workers'
submitters commented on the need for actuarial analysis to be undertaken of the
impact of the bill on the premium pool.
Specifically, the Queensland government took the view that until detail on the
scope of the proposed 'national employer' test is provided, meaningful
actuarial analysis on the bill could not be undertaken.
The Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) notes that actuarial assessments were
conducted for the Australian government Productivity Commission's 2004 Inquiry
into National Workers' Compensation and Occupational Health and Safety
Frameworks and that minimal impact would be felt by state based schemes or
remaining employers due to the exit of corporations from the state and
territory schemes to the Comcare scheme.
2.15 The Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU)
submitted that the proposed 'group employer licence' is open to far more
employers than comparable state group licensees because of fewer financial
requirements and the absence of any minimum number of employees.
The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) argued that by allowing entry to
the Comcare scheme through group licences, small employers who do not meet the
'national employer' test could opt out of contributing to the relevant premium
pool of workers' compensation.
The Law Council of Australia submitted that:
A major concern is that the expansion of the SRC scheme will
have ramifications for the financial viability of existing [s]tates and
[t]erritory workers' compensation scheme... [t]he preferred approach is to adopt
best practices from each jurisdiction in developing harmonising legislation,
rather than simply enabling national employers to opt-out of state/territory
Queensland Council of Unions also expressed concerns that the departure of
national employers from state or territory workers' compensation schemes would
result in a weakening of the state scheme and potentially 'massive increases
for state-based employers/and or the eventual removal of entitlements to
injured workers to attempt to maintain the scheme viability.'
department submitted that the 2008 Taylor Fry Review of self-insurance
arrangements under the Comcare scheme concluded that there would be minimal
impacts on state workers' compensation schemes if private corporations were to
join the Comcare scheme as self-insurers. Specifically, the Taylor Fry
Review concluded that:
The prudential and financial requirements of licensees mean
that the risk to premium payers or the Commonwealth is minimal... All the
available evidence suggests that the actual impacts on the state and territory
workers' compensation scheme of corporations exiting those schemes to join
Comcare have been insignificant. The likelihood of future impacts being
significant is low.
submitters were concerned that the Comcare scheme offers fewer benefits than
many state and territory workers' compensations schemes and has inadequate dispute
resolution processes. The department advised that:
The Commonwealth Work Health and Safety framework consisting
of the Work Health and Safety Act, Regulations and Codes of Practice is based
on the provisions of the Model Work Health and Safety Act and Regulations
developed by all states and territory jurisdictions and peak union and employer
organisations through Safe Work Australia.
The capacity of Comcare
submitters argued Comcare lacked the capacity to monitor performance, regulate
and hold to account self-insurers on a national basis, for example, where a
self-insurer fails to meet return to work obligations. In response, Comcare explained
that on its
assessment of applications for self-insurance licences, the Commission applies
stringent standards and regularly monitors licensees' performance, with regard
to such issues as:
(a) the resources of the corporation applying for the
licence...; (b) financial and prudential information...; (c) the claims management
systems information of the corporation...; and (d) the past performance of the
applicant corporation in complying with and conforming to applicable laws or
statutory guidelines in relation to the health and safety of employees,
rehabilitation of employees, premium payment and claims management obligations.
addition, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations 2009 Comcare
Review found that:
Overall, the Comcare scheme's approach to Work Health and
Safety regulation was comparable with other Australian schemes. The provision
of self-insurance licences to private sector corporations was not seen as
placing them or their employees at a disadvantage.
number of submissions argued that the Comcare scheme was not equipped to cover
workers in industries outside of the Australian Public Service, for example,
aged care, manufacturing or mining.
The department responded to this criticism by explaining that:
The industry profile of the Comcare scheme is varied and covers
the Australian Defence Force as well as 29 self-insurers who are private
corporations across a range of industries including: construction;
manufacturing; Financial and insurance services; Transport, postal and
warehousing; and Information media and telecommunications.
Comcare explained that while aged care, the health industry and mining sectors
are not currently in the Comcare jurisdiction, '[s]kills in this area will be
acquired when/if companies in these fields enter the Comcare scheme.'
committee notes that all submitters were generally supportive of the establishment of nationally
consistent workers’ compensation standards.
committee recognises the submitter concerns outlined above. However, the committee
notes that the proposed measures were carefully drafted after consultation and
in response to a number of comprehensive reviews and inquiries.
the committee recognises that Comcare will need to adjust and increase its
workforce accordingly, it maintains that legislative change is still necessary
to significantly reduce compliance costs, simplify processes and boost
productivity and efficiency for businesses that operate and employ across
the amendments implement the specific recommendations of a number of reviews
and inquiries to remove the 'national employer test' and enable the Commission
to grant 'group employer licenses', the committee can see no reason for the
legislation to be delayed.
Exclusions of access to workers' compensation
second key issue concerns exclusions of access to workers' compensation in
three instances. The RIS identified that the exclusions of access to workers'
compensation outlined in the bill respond to community expectations concerning
The government said that:
'[i]n circumstances where a claimant's injury is the result of their own
serious and wilful misconduct, community expectations are that the injury would
not be compensable.'
submitters expressed concerns that these exclusions would result in injured
workers receiving less workers' compensation payments than they would under
their respective state or territory system.
Some witnesses also questioned the extent to which these provisions could apply
to industries outside the Comcare scheme's current profile.
Injury caused by misconduct
amendment under schedule 3 would alter subsection 14(3) of the SRC Act by
excluding access to workers' compensation where an employee sustains an injury
that is caused by their own serious and wilful misconduct, even if the injury
results in death or serious and permanent injury.
Specifically, this amendment is:
geared towards people acting in a proper and safe manner and
[does] not include a safety net for people who break the rules and put at risk
not just themselves but other employees.
It should be noted that the proposed amendment provides an exception in
subsection 147(2) of the SRC Act for Australian Defence Force (ADF) members,
such that they will continue to have access to workers' compensation where
their own serious and wilful misconduct results in death or serious and
number of submissions pointed out that currently all Australian workers' compensation
jurisdictions provide coverage where the employee sustains an injury that
results in death or serious or permanent injury, even where the injury is
thought to be caused by their own serious and wilful misconduct, providing the
injury was not intentionally self-inflicted.
and witnesses representing employees' rights disagreed with the proposed
exclusion of access to workers compensation where an employee sustains an
injury that is caused by their own serious and wilful misconduct, even if the
injury results in death or serious and permanent injury.
They expressed concerns about its procedural fairness
and argued that it would shift the burdens and risks associated with employment
further on to employees.
In evidence to the committee, Mr Trevor Clarke, Senior Industrial Officer of
ACTU questioned 'how
a deceased worker might meet the evidentiary burden of proving that the conduct
that killed them was not wilful.'
The department's response to this concern is as follows:
If an employee were to die at work, I do not think the
employer could simply assert that it was caused by the employee's serious and
wilful misconduct. Ordinarily, the dependents of the deceased person would
stand to benefit from a claim under the employer's liability. It would only be
if the employer could counter that claim by proving there had been serious and
wilful misconduct that the deceased employee's dependents would miss out.
[t]he employer would have to adduce evidence of the serious
and wilful misconduct. There would have to be visual, documentary or eyewitness
evidence to say that the person was engaged in an activity that constituted
serious and wilful misconduct ...
Australian Federal Police Association (AFPA) argued that policing work exposes
police employees to a significantly high risk, and that they should therefore
be afforded the same protections provided to ADF members under the proposed
subsection 147(2), such that they would continue to have access to compensation
in cases where serious and wilful misconduct results in death or serious and
department explained that the bill aims to respond to community expectations
concerning personal accountability.
Further, in the 2014-2015 Budget Estimates public hearings, the Hon. Eric
Abetz, Minister for Employment stated:
From a government policy point of view, people do need to
take responsibility for their own actions, and wilful and serious misconduct
does have consequences that will have flow-on impacts... every extra claim on a
workers compensation policy increases premiums, increases the cost of employing
people and, as a result, mitigates against employment opportunities in this
Greg Pattison, Special Advisor Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation
Policy, ACCI, supported the proposed exclusion under schedule 3. In explaining
ACCI's position, Mr Pattison articulated how the current provision affected
It is one of the ongoing frustrations of employers generally
that they feel they are being held accountable, liable – and in this case
liable through the increase in their workers compensation costs – for the
actions of employees after they have done all the right things: after they have
trained them, provided them with instruction, direction, all those sorts of
things, yet it still comes back on the employer. In their minds, it still comes
back on them, because they have to pay additional premium as a consequence.
Productivity Commission's 2004 Inquiry into National Workers' Compensation
and Occupational Health and
Safety Frameworks (2004
Productivity Commission Inquiry) recommended that: 'coverage for recess breaks
and work-related events... be restricted, on the basis of lack of employer control,
to those at workplaces and at employer sanctioned events.'
amendment under schedule 4 proposes to remove entitlement to workers'
compensation for injuries sustained when an employee is temporarily absent from
the workplace during a recess.
The rationale is that employers undertake to keep their
workplace safe for employees. That is the responsibility and duty of an
employer. The workers compensation scheme is there so, if, despite the
employer's best efforts, an injury occurs at work, the worker is nevertheless
covered. But the employer does not have any control over the places an employee
might go to when they leave the employer's place of work.
committee heard extensive evidence relating to the possible implications of
this proposed amendment on workers. Issues were raised concerning situations
where employees must travel between worksites during a recess, or where it is
necessary for employees to leave work to obtain food or drink.
Specifically, some submitters argued that the proposed amendment failed to
accommodate the obligations of police and emergency service workers.
presented evidence at the hearing that during meal breaks Federal Police are
considered to be on duty.
With the recess breaks, or meal breaks, in the Federal Police
you are actually paid during your meal breaks because you are actually still on
duty. So you have a difficult situation there.
I was going to ask you that question, actually, Mr
Hunt-Sharman. That is, you really are not off duty, are you?
So if you did go to a cafe across the road and somebody was
holding the cafe up at the time you went in—or attempted to, stupidly, while
you were there—you actually are on duty, aren't you?
That is correct.
I can well understand the issue with others who have come
before us, but on the common sense principle I could never see an occasion in
which somebody in your activity could ever actually have the charge laid
against you, because you are on duty all the time.
Yes, and of course you are there to protect life and
property. That is your sworn oath as an officer of the Crown.
at the hearing Mr Wayne McAndrew, General Vice President of CFMEU Mining and
Energy, explained that in the mining industry recess breaks are also considered
part of work:
[r]ecesses, or meal breaks as we more commonly call them in
my industry, are covered as part of the work in any event. You are not off for
a period of time; it is pretty hard to come out for a cup of coffee from three
miles underground, for example. So it has always been part of their work,
whether they worked seven, eight, nine or 12 hours.
2009 Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Report of
the Review of Self-insurance arrangements under the Comcare Scheme
(2009 Department of Education Review) recommended that:'[c]laims arising from
injuries sustained during travel to and from work and off-site recess breaks,
continue to be excluded.'
the RIS outlines that the current scenario increases costs for employers as a
result of the higher incidence of accepted claims.
The government contends that where the employer has no control over the
activities of the employee or the environment in which the employee engages in
the proper avenue for people to seek recompense for injuries
under such circumstances is through the owner of the premises where the injury
occurred, not through their employer who has no control over the matter.
2.43 The committee notes that employees who suffer an
injury away from their place of work whilst on a recess have other avenues of
redress in those circumstances, for example through public liability and
compulsory third party insurance schemes. An employee who suffers an injury
away from work should seek compensation for their injury directly from the
person or organisation who owed the duty of care, rather than from their own
employer who has no responsibility for areas over which they have no control.
Abnormal risk of injury
2.44 The amendment under schedule 4 would also repeal and
substitute subsection 6(3) of the SRC Act, such that employees who voluntarily
and unreasonably submit to an abnormal risk of injury will be excluded from
claiming workers' compensation for an injury sustained at their usual place of
2.45 Submitters representing employees' rights did not
support this amendment, emphasising the lack of protection it would provide for
workers, particularly where an employee is asked to undertake a task by their
employer and even though the employee understands that they are submitting
themselves to an abnormal risk they must weigh that against disobeying the
Witnesses at the hearing also provided testimony about the potential
ramifications of this amendment on those who work in environments with a
significantly higher exposure to risk, for example those working in the mining
sector or the police force.
government states that the proposed amendment to subsection 6(3) is
consequential to the proposed amendments to section 6(1)(b):
Because subsection 6(1) will no longer apply to injuries
sustained away from the place of work during recess break, the reference to an
injury sustained at a place or during an ordinary recess is no longer required.
committee notes a number of concerns raised by witnesses and submitters.
However, the committee also notes that a number of the proposed amendments stem
from recommendations made by the 2004 Productivity Commission Inquiry and the
2009 Department of Education Review.
committee also notes that premiums for employers may disproportionately
increase as a direct result of inappropriate access to workers' compensation
schemes by employees who suffer injuries away from work.
It is the view of the committee that employees injured in these circumstances
should claim compensation from the person or organisation that owed them the
duty of care during a recess, rather than from their employer.
committee is persuaded that, on balance, the legislative response is
proportional and reasonable, such that the amendments would respond to
community expectations and ensure that the high importance that is placed on
adhering to work health and safety requirements is not demeaned by employee
committee recommends that the Senate pass the bill.
Senator Bridget McKenzie
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