Labor senators are opposed to the package of bills currently before parliament
which propose to radically alter the Seacare scheme. The Seafarers and Other
Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 (the bill) in particular represents a piecemeal
attempt to restructure the Seacare scheme. However it is the view of Labor
senators that it will not result in any worthwhile change.
While the Department of Employment (the department) has argued that the
bill represents a compromise position to strike a balance between unions and
submissions to this inquiry demonstrate that this could not be further from the
truth. Submissions from both employer and employee representatives express
signification reservations about the bills package.
In essence, the bill would hinder injured seafarers' ability to return
to work after an injury. The bill would also result in more confusion over the
scheme's coverage, leading to even more costly, time-consuming and unnecessary litigation.
Labor is very concerned about this development.
As both union and industry submissions argued, the bills package will
not alleviate confusion about the Seacare scheme's coverage. These concerns are
detailed in the majority report at paragraphs 3.7 to 3.8.
Harmonising WHS laws
While the attempts to harmonise WHS laws across the maritime sector are
a welcome development, Labor is concerned that the government did not consult
adequately on this matter and as a result there are flaws in the WHS components
of the bill.
The compensation provisions also demonstrate a lack of concern for
injured seafarers. Labor shares the ACTU's view that the bill erodes existing
protections and payments for injured seafarers.
The proposed changes to governance arrangements reveal the government's
lack of commitment to effective reform. Submissions from the unions and MIAL clearly
explained that if these changes come into force, maritime employees and their
families will be subject to costly and time-consuming litigation, which will
further damage employees' ability to undergo rehabilitation and return to work.
Labor is also greatly concerned that the provision of maritime expertise
is not a mandatory requirement of the proposed scheme. It is not satisfactory
to simply give the chair of the SRCC a discretionary ability to appoint a
maritime advisory panel. The reasons for this are laid out in depth in the
MUA's submission and include:
the operation and manipulation of heavy objects and machinery;
living in the workplace;
fatigue and isolation;
being prepared to deal with an emergency at all times.
Furthermore, MIAL stated that:
Where a separate industry scheme is to be maintained it
defies logic not to retain industry expertise for the administration of it... If
a body that does not have industry representation on it is tasked with
administration of an industry specific scheme, then that body must be obliged
to consider industry advice as part of that administration.
Despite many years in preparation, the seafarers bills package is not
supported by either the unions or industry representatives. Other than the
department, no submitters support the package.
Overall, the bills package constitutes a muddled attempt to reform the
Seacare scheme. The government has wasted much time appearing to be
consultative and has developed a so-called compromise option that produces a
piecemeal package of bills that will ultimately undermine the Seacare scheme.
The bills won't enhance the operations of the maritime sector or the
protection of workers. They will, rather, hamper the industry, as they do not
alleviate coverage issues, will result in more litigation and will not cater
for the specific needs of the maritime sector.
Labor Senators recommend that the Senate not pass the seafarers package
Senator Gavin Marshall
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