Angry workers tell Carr Government: No compo cuts!
by Marcus Browning Unions in NSW are sending a clear message to the Carr Government that they reject the Government's plan to take away the compensation rights of injured workers. Last Thursday a warning as to the level of the anger and resolve of workers was sounded when 100,000 building workers, led by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), downed tools around the State against proposed legislation which would block injured workers' access to compensation, common law and the right to appeal. All major building sites from Sydney, the Illawarra, Newcastle, Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour, to Wagga Wagga and Albury, went on strike for 24 hours. There will be ongoing actions, including a protest in Sydney on April 27, the International Day of Remembrance for workers killed in industrial accidents. Truck drivers will this month set up a Sydney blockade. Also from midnight last Thursday, Maritime Union of Australia members placed a 24-hour ban on the collection of fares on state-owned ferries, as well as a 24-hour work to rule campaign at the Sydney Port Corporation and Waterways Authority. Premier Carr and his Industrial Relations Minister, John Della Bosca, are acting on behalf of the employers who are actually rorting the WorkCover system, with around 30 percent of employers in the construction industry under-insuring their workers. The CFMEU said one of the ploys by the bosses is to understate wages, the number of workers employed and the type of work they do. In addition, the CFMEU points to the failure of the Government to fund safety enforcement on building sites. Often companies allow workers' compensation debts to mount up, then go into liquidation rather than pay WorkCover the money. WorkCover has a deficit of more than $2 billion, and Carr and Della Bosca are using this employer- created debt to attack injured workers' rights. Backing the Government, 17 business groups, including Australian Business Ltd and the Retail Traders' Association, are running an advertising campaign in support of the legislation. One of the many examples of the draconian nature of the proposed legislation is its provision of the means to deprive workers with psychological stress of compensation. All workers seeking psychological stress compensation will have to pass a harsh new threshold test, copied from the American Medical Association's impairment guidelines. The test is based on "whole body impairment". Richard Brennan, a workers' compensation solicitor for the Public Service Association, said that the threshold is "inordinately high, much higher than the current threshold". In fact, Mr Brennan noted that "due to a technical defect there is actually no way of crossing the threshold for psychological injury". Phil Davey from the CFMEU told The Guardian, "The savings will be made in cuts to benefits to injured workers. We want the legislation withdrawn totally, and redrafted in consultation with the union movement." Maritime Union Sydney Branch Secretary, Robert Coombs, said the union's members were registering their disgust at the new workers' compensation provisions drawn up by Della Bosca. "We believe that the new laws, if allowed to be enacted, will deny workers natural justice", he said. "They won't even have the right to have disputed claims heard by independent arbitration."