Essential workers set to lose COVID-19 workers compensation protection
A coalition of small business groups wrote to the government on November 11 to “strongly urge the NSW Parliament to repeal section 19B of the Workers Compensation Act (1987) as soon as possible”.
The section states, “it is presumed (unless the contrary is established) that the disease was contracted by the worker in the course of the employment, and the employment”.
The coalition said it was opposed to the amendment because it “presented a significant risk of escalation of workers compensation premiums for small business”.
“It potentially exposed business owners to litigation – that is, being held vicariously liable for harm caused to a third person who had been shown to be infected by a worker who had been deemed to have contracted COVID in the workplace,” they wrote.
Mr Perrottet said now that the economy was reopening “we want businesses investing in new staff and higher wages, not inflated insurance bills”.
“When the NSW government originally made the amendments, we had little information about how COVID-19 was spread and whether it was more likely to be contracted in workplaces, and we certainly didn’t have a vaccine rollout,” he said.
Treasurer Matt Kean said the NSW government is ensuring businesses don’t foot the bill for more than half a billion dollars in premium increases.
“If the NSW government doesn’t repeal this amendment, we risk losing jobs just as our recovery is gaining momentum,” he said.
Minister for Digital and Customer Service Victor Dominello said without changes, the scheme could be hit with more than 25,000 extra claims with an average increase in insurance premiums of $950.
“Removing the automatic workers compensation entitlements will not remove a worker’s right to make a claim if they contract COVID-19 as a result of their employment,” he said.
Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey said the impact of the policy change was “harsh, heartless and unnecessary”.
“Any savings to government will be tiny, but the impact on individual workers will be massive,” he said. “The most affected workers will be those who are putting themselves in harm’s way … overwhelmingly this will be women.”
Greens MP David Shoebridge said the changes introduced last year were designed to protect frontline workers like nurses, teachers, bus drivers and retail staff who had a higher risk of being exposed to COVID-19.
“Without these laws the people who have been keeping us safe, keeping us fed, keeping our city running won’t have the protection they deserve if they catch COVID-19,” he said.
“It’s next to impossible to prove you caught COVID at work rather than at home or on public transport getting to and from work – that’s why these laws are there to protect frontline workers.”
NSW Labor’s spokeswoman for industrial relations Sophie Cotsis said the policy change was a “stab in the back for the tens of thousands of workers fighting COVID-19”.
The Herald reported last month that workers’ compensation claims for contracting COVID-19 were expected to surge at the end of the NSW lockdown, with the industry regulator predicting a bill of up to $638 million within 12 months.
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