The Guardian April 25, 2001


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."

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