A long-term LNP member, who runs a Brisbane personal injury law firm, has pleaded with the Queensland government to leave the state’s workers’ compensation scheme alone.
Parliament urged not to introduce WorkCover QLD injury thresholds
LNP lawyer urges cabinet to leave workers compensation alone
The LNP cabinet is expected to hear proposed changes to the WorkCover scheme on Monday.
While nothing has been confirmed, the government has flagged changes, including imposing caps on common law payouts and abolishing workers’ insurance protections during travel and breaks.
The principal of KM Splatt & Associates, Kerry Splatt, has written to all members of parliament urging them not to introduce WorkCover injury thresholds.
If introduced, the thresholds would prevent employees pursuing common-law claims if a WorkCover doctor judges their permanent impairment from their injury as being between zero and five per cent.
“We just don’t want WorkCover doctors determining this. The common-law system allows independent assessment,” Mr Splatt told Fairfax Media.
“Employers and government have the wrong assumption thinking premiums would go down, but the cost of bureaucracy to implement the system won’t achieve that.”
In his letter to parliament, Mr Splatt, who is a member of the LNP’s Law and Justice Committee, says insurance premiums have risen in other states which have an injury threshold system.
Mr Splatt also told Fairfax Media his business would decrease by “about 15 per cent” if the changes were introduced.
A ReachTEL poll conducted on Thursday showed 83 per cent support the right of workers to bring legal claims for injuries in unsafe workplaces, while 73 per cent think workers should be able to claim for minor injuries as well.
Qld: Construction Industry Wants Workers Comp Overhaul
The building and construction industry in Queensland has joined industry calls for an overhaul of workers compensation arrangements in that state, including measures to limit a worker’s rights to receive compensation through the courts.
As speculation mounts that the government is considering wide-ranging reforms to the WorkCover system, groups such as the Master Builders Association, Housing Industry Association and Master Electricians Australia have joined forces with a number of other industry groups to call for a five percent work related impairment (WRI) threshold on access to compensation under common law.
This would mean workers would be able to pursue compensation claims through the courts only if the worker concerned suffers permanent impairment (e.g. loss of body parts or system functions) to the tune of five percent as a result of the injury.
For injuries which did not meet this requirement, workers would still be able to claim compensation via a statutory formula.
Master Builders Association (Queensland) Executive Director Grant Calvin says common law claims account for a disproportionate share of the overall cost of the WorkCover scheme and are an unduly expensive means of awarding compensation for injuries assessed as having a low WRI percentage.
“In the building and construction industry, there has been a 23% increase in premiums in the last four years, with some sectors such as bricklaying and concreting up more than 30%” Galvin says.
“This is a massive concern for Master Builders, particularly as many of our members are small businesses and are finding these premiums unsustainable.”
Galvin’s comments come amid speculation the Queensland government may be considering changes to the system similar to those recently passed in New South Wales, which saw worker’s entitlements cut back after 13 weeks as opposed to the previous 26 weeks and financial support for medical expenses reduced.
Whilst employer groups are calling for changes to reduce the cost of the system, unions and some lawyer groups say mooted changes would remove coverage and cut benefits.
Queensland Council of Unions President John Battams says rights to sue negligent employers for injuries are under threat, as are journey claims covering injuries for workers travelling to and from work.
Australian Lawyers Alliance Queensland President Michelle James, meanwhile, says a recent parliamentary inquiry was right in concluding the scheme worked well and did not require fundamental change was correct, and has called on the government to ‘draw breath’ before proceeding with any changes.
Galvin, however, says the aforementioned threshold changes would reduce premiums by up to 15 percent whilst still allowing common law compensation for significant WRI injuries.
He says Queensland and the ACT are the only states where access to common law compensation is unlimited.
“We understand that sometimes a worker must seek recourse through common law and indeed we do not seek to deny access to compensation for workers who have significant ongoing impairment as the result of sustaining a work related injury” Galvin says.
“Rather we believe this issue must be considered against achieving the most efficient means of delivering fair outcomes for all stakeholders.”