The Guardian July 12, 2000


Melbourne unionists protest against weak compensation rights

Some 3000 union members rallied in the streets of Melbourne last 
Wednesday to protest the against the inadequate new workers' compensation 
legislation recently introduced by the Bracks Labor Government.

The previous Kennett Government stripped most workers of the right to sue 
their employers under common law for injuries suffered in the workplace, 
with the intention of restricting  compensation for such injuries to the 
cost of medical expenses.

The new Bracks Government was expected to at least restore the previous 
level of compensation rights. It was also expected to make the new laws 
retrospective, to allow 5000 workers who suffered injuries during the 
Kennett regime to seek compensation from their employers, and to improve 
workplace inspection by government.

However, the Bracks Government did not restore the workers' compensation 
entitlements to the pre-Kennett level, let alone improve those 
entitlements, nor did it make the legislation retrospective.

The Government has employed an extra 30 Workcover inspectors, and it 
intends to introduce legislation (the Occupational Health and Safety 2000 
Bill) which it says will impose a stricter Workplace health and safety 
regime on employers and will introduce the concept of industrial 
manslaughter.

However, the union movement has not yet been given the opportunity to 
peruse the Bill or comment on it.

In the light of the shortcomings of the Workcover legislation, there are 
deep misgivings about the adequacy of this legislation also.

Speakers at the rally made it clear that the union movement will not rest 
until certain conditions have been met.

Firstly, the level of compensation rights must be restored to at least the 
Pre-Kennett level.

Secondly, the 5000 workers injured under the Kennett regime must be 
empowered to take common law action for compensation.

And thirdly, the number of injuries suffered in the workplace must be 
drastically curtailed.

A spokesman for the Workcover Minister, Bob Cameron, last week stated 
stubbornly that the Bracks Government had made good on its pre-election 
promises to workers, which he said had never actually included a commitment 
to introduce retrospective legislation.

Apart from this statement, the Government has to date, met union criticism 
of its actions with a sullen silence.

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