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ANMF fights unfair WorkCover changes

ANMF fights unfair WorkCover changes

The Allan Government’s proposed changes to WorkCover legislation have entered parliament for debate. ANMF (Vic Branch) opposes some of the changes, and we are working with Victorian Trades Hall Council and other Victorian unions to seek vital amendments.

In addition, Acting Assistant Secretary Ms Rachel Halse recently gave evidence to the state parliamentary committee inquiry into the WorkCover Scheme Modernisation Bill 2023.

‘ANMF (Vic Branch) is deeply concerned by aspects of the proposed Bill, as it has the potential to significantly compromise the rights and wellbeing of Victoria’s nurses, midwives and carers,’ Ms Halse told the committee.

‘This is an extremely serious issue for the ANMF,’ she said. ‘In decades gone, injuries of the back, neck and soft tissue were the major source of pain and disability for thousands of nurses, midwives and carers. We fought hard, and against many employers, to win government support for Safe Lift programs, equipment and training in workplaces. The programs were so successful that these physical injuries are a fraction of what they were 20 or 30 years ago.

‘On the other hand, over the last decade we have faced a surge in psychological injuries. The rise in burn-out during COVID, occupational violence and aggression, and fatigue because of increased acuity are just some of the factors that have resulted in psychological injuries. Many are short term, but many linger. They are just as real as physical injuries.

‘To target psychological injuries to achieve cost-cutting makes assumptions that these injuries are less real and less damaging. This stands in complete contravention of the mental health royal commission’s themes and recommendations. It disrespects the tens of thousands of health professionals who do real jobs and suffer psychological injury in the process.’

What proposed changes are most concerning to ANMF members and why?

The Workplace Scheme Modernisation Bill 2023 aims to improve WorkCover – particularly in relation to mental injury claims – and to make it financially stable into the future, but ANMF believes the Bill will actually undermine workplace safety.

Among the key changes to the WorkCover Scheme contained in the Bill are the introduction of:

  • Prospective strict eligibility requirements for mental injuries that exclude claims for ‘usual or typical’ stress and burnout, and
  • a Whole Person Impairment (WPI) threshold of more than 20 per cent (it is currently 10 per cent, or 15 per cent for psychological injuries) that a member would need to meet to continue receiving payments after 130 weeks – in addition to the work capacity test.

The Bill also proposes that initial eligibility disputes will no longer be able to be referred to arbitration. This was a significant reform by the Andrews Government to provide a low-cost, easily accessible jurisdiction to injured workers rather than an expensive court process and must be retained.

Without implementing the delayed psychological health regulations ensuring a positive duty on employers to prevent mental injury, the Bill as it currently exists poses a real risk that WorkSafe Victoria could be investigating and/or prosecuting an employer for failures under the OHS Act 2004 whilst the worker or workers who sustained psychological injuries as a result of these failures would not be entitled to workers’ compensation.

Further risks are posed by changes to the WPI test for ongoing benefits after 130 weeks. If a member is assaulted at work and sustains significant physical and psychological injuries, the bill suggests that each injury will be considered separately. Should both injuries be assessed separately at 18 per cent WPI, our member would not be eligible for ongoing payments.

What amendments are we seeking?

In addition to Ms Halse’s evidence provided to the parliamentary committee, we have written to the WorkSafe minister, Danny Pearson, asking him to urgently address our concerns and to reconsider our proposed amendments to the bill.

These include:

  1. requiring the legislation to provide guidance and clarification on what is ‘usual or typical’ stress and burnout for a worker, a particular workplace and industry. Would stress and burnout from working in a one-hundred-year unprecedented event meet the ‘usual or typical’ requirements of the new Act? What ‘traumatic events’ are considered to be ‘usual or typical and reasonably expected to occur’?
  2. ensuring that the Whole Person Impairment (WPI) test for ongoing benefits post 130 weeks combine physical and mental injuries, instead of considering them separately.
  3. Retaining the ability to appeal initial eligibility for claims to arbitration rather than having court and costly legal expenses as the only alternative.

Read our full letter to Minister Pearson.