HopgoodGanim Lawyers' Insurance and Risk team has published several alerts discussing the proposed changes to Queensland's Workers' Compensation Scheme (published on 16 July, 23 July, 7 August and 17 August 2015).
On 8 September 2015, the Parliamentary Finance and Administration Committee (the committee) delivered its report containing a summary of the committee's examination of the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2015. If passed by the house, this Bill will make a number of significant changes to Queensland's Workers' Compensation Scheme, including the removal of the current limitation on the entitlement to seek damages, that requires a worker to have a degree of permanent impairment as a result of the injury greater than 5% to access common law damages from the date of the Queensland state election (31 January 2015).
The committee's task was to consider the policy outcomes to be achieved by the Bill, as well as the application of fundamental legislative principles – that is, whether it had regard to the rights and liberties of individuals and to the institution of Parliament.
In the course of the committee's deliberations, public hearings were held during which the committee heard from many rural fire fighters in regards to various issues raised in the Bill. As a result the committee has made the following six recommendations in respect of fire fighters' workers' compensation provisions and entitlements:
- Amendments be made to allow for the inclusion of additional diseases that may be identified in the future.
- The requirement for rural volunteer fire fighters to have attended 150 exposure incidents be omitted from the legislation.
- The Bill be amended to include the appointment of an independent committee or panel to be established to consider exposures and assist in determining whether rebuttal of claims are warranted.
- The department seek and incorporate additional scientific studies of exposures by fire fighters, including volunteer rural fire fighters.
- As a matter of priority, Queensland Emergency Services implement a system of record keeping for fire fighters, including volunteer rural fire fighters, that tracks individual fire fighters' exposure to incidents.
- The Minister reconsider the definition of an exposure included in the proposed new section 36F of the legislation.
The committee was unable to reach agreement on other issues raised in the Bill. In that regard, the government Members of the committee accepted that the Bill should pass with amendments whilst the non-government Members considered that the Bill should not be passed unless other significant amendments were made.
In particular, the committee was unable to reach agreement on the issue of whether workers who sustain a permanent impairment of less than 6% should have access to common law damages.
There was also disagreement between government and non-government Members of the committee concerning whether employers should be able to obtain a prospective employee's claims history. The non-government Members of the committee were of the view that employers should be able to avail themselves of this information because it will enable an employer to work with the prospective employee to put appropriate safeguards in place to ensure there is no risk of aggravating a prior or pre-existing injury. The non-government Members also noted the evidence of some submitters about the existence of some unscrupulous employees who take advantage of the workers' compensation system. By contrast, government Members expressed alarm at the increased number of worker claim histories being accessed by employers and considered the information being made available on the existing provisions to be of very limited utility to business. Government Members also noted the evidence of a number of submitters that under the existing legislation, some workers were failing to report workplace injuries for fear that the claim may be used against them in the future.
The committee was unable to fully consider the issue of additional compensation for those workers who sustained injuries between 15 October 2013 and 31 January 2015 because of the limited detail available concerning what additional compensation would be offered and how it would be managed. The proposed subordinate legislation, which will contain this information, was not available for the committee's consideration.
Queensland's Parliament will debate the Bill in coming weeks and the Treasurer, Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, Curtis Pitt, is required to respond to the recommendations in the report by 8 December 2015.
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