NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has conceded that the reformed WorkCover scheme is messy because the amended version excludes firefighters and paramedics, coalminers and…priests…? But perhaps more importantly, Greens MP David Shoebridge said the firefighters’ strike should act as an inspiration to other workers who should also have been exempted. If you stand up to this government, if you stand up united, you can get your victories.
WorkCover NSW changes are messy: O’Farrell
The state government’s changes to workers’ compensation passed through the upper house of parliament shortly after 2am (AEST) on Friday, following the first general strike by firefighters since 1956.
The coalition used its numbers in the lower house less than an hour later to rubber-stamp the amendments made in the Legislative Council.
But Mr O’Farrell is disappointed that conservative crossbench MPs in the upper house voted for a Greens amendment to have firefighters and paramedics exempted from having their benefits and medical expenses capped.
“That’s a mess that’s been created by an amendment passed by the Greens, Labor, Christian Democrats and Shooters last night,” he told ABC Television on Friday.
“The question now is the Labor Party, the Greens, the Shooters, the Christian Democrats having exempted paramedics and firefighters, what do they say to nurses?”
The government had initially proposed to have only police excluded as part of a plan to trim WorkCover’s $4.1 billion deficit.
The amendments in the upper house emerged after about 800 firefighters in Sydney, Newcastle and the Central Coast walked off the job in protest on Thursday.
Unions claimed victory on Friday for firefighters, saying they would not have won exemptions if they hadn’t taken the extreme action of staging their first general strike in 56 years.
“Their strike really sharpened the focus of the parliamentarians, and that’s why the exemption was achieved,” Unions NSW secretary Mark Lennon told reporters in Sydney.
“(It was) one of the most remarkable protests outside Parliament House in my time as a union official.”
Fire Brigade Employees’ Union secretary Jim Casey said the action was “tragic” but effective.
“It’s quite clear that the action we took played a significant role,” he said, adding that the union would continue opposing the WorkCover reforms.
Opposition Leader John Robertson welcomed the exemptions but said all workers should have been treated the same.
“There are dangerous jobs and what Barry O’Farrell has done is set up two standards of workers.”
Greens MP David Shoebridge said the firefighters’ strike should act as an inspiration to other workers who should also have been exempted.
“Well, the record’s in – if you stand up to this government, if you stand up united, you can get your victories,” Mr Shoebridge said.
The upper house also agreed to an amendment from Christian Democrats MP Fred Nile for workers to be covered for journey claims.
Mr O’Farrell said that under the South Australian model agreed to by the government following negotiations with crossbench MPs, work-related injuries suffered during travel to or from work would be covered.
“A priest … on a road at night who comes across an accident scene who’s delivering the last rites, who’s then hit by a truck that goes past would be covered,” he told ABC television.