Published: 30 March 2017
Author: Richard Derks
Andrews Govt extends worker protections under WorkCover Act
Families in regional Victoria to benefit
The Victorian Andrews Government has introduced new WorkCover legislation into parliament in order to strengthen and extend the benefits and rights of injured workers. The families of badly injured workers who live in regional Victoria but are hospitalised far from home will be one of the big winners.
The new WorkSafe Legislation Amendment (WLA) Bill will also strengthen the hand of the WorkCover Authority to hold to account self insurers if they have done the wrong thing.
Better WorkCover benefits for regional families
Under the new Bill, the families of those who have been badly injured would have their travel and accommodation expenses paid by WorkCover, should they have to travel more than 100 kilometres to attend a hospital. The benefit would also extend to those families, who would typically live in country Victoria, to attend the funeral of a deceased member of the family.
At present, families living at a distance from a seriously injured or deceased family member have to meet their own travel expenses under WorkCover.
While there is a cap of $5,000 on these benefits, nevertheless they would be of enormous support to families in provincial cities or who live in smaller towns or remote locations, where the injured member of the family may be under care in a Melbourne hospital.
Casual loadings benefits to be protected
People employed as casuals who have been injured at work will also have their benefits better protected under law.
Currently, casuals who are injured and who unable to attend work have a replacement income paid to them through the WorkCover system. This weekly income benefit is calculated on the basis the injured worker’s average weekly earnings over a period of 12 months prior to the injury.
It has been WorkCover's operational practice to include casual loadings as a base rate of pay rather than an overtime or shift payment. The problem with overtime and shift payments is they are only included in weekly compensation payment calculations for the first 12 months.
The significance of the decision is that it will help protect that practice by requiring any future government wishing to tinker or dilute that practice to do so through legislation, rather than simply by a Ministerial direction.
Self insurers also held to account
The Andrews Government also wants to extend the deadline under which WorkCover Victoria can pursue self-insurers if they have committed an offence under the WIRC Act.
Under the present system, companies and other organisations may opt out of the WorkCover insurance scheme in order to take charge of their own insurance premiums. The practice in itself is a hotly debated issue because it allows big companies to leave the State-backed WorkCover scheme, thereby leaving a smaller pool of contributors most of whom are small to medium sized companies.
While self insurers are not at the direction of the Victorian WorkCover Authority, they are under its supervision. The problem is that currently there is a 12 month deadline by which time the self insurer must be prosecuted. Clearly this wasn't working for WorkCover because they often didn't find out about an issue until long after the 12 month period of the offence being committed. They could then not punish them. Now they can because they have 12 months to act once they become aware of the offence.
This will give the Authority more time to clamp down on offenders.
A range of other provisions are contained in the new legislation. We will cover those changes in our next blog on the topic.
The Victorian Government last week introduced into Parliament the WorkSafe Legislation Amendment (WLA) Bill which proposes to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act), the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013 (WIRC Act), the Accident Compensation Act 1985 (AC Act) and the Dangerous Goods Act 1985 (DG Act). For more detail on the WLA Bill visit: www.parliament.vic.gov.au/static/www.legislation.vic.gov.au-bills.html