Workers in Queensland have good reason to be uneasy about the Parliamentary Committee Enquiry by the Queensland Government into the State's workers' compensation system whose results will be handed down soon.
The enquiry's brief was to look at:
- whether the 2010 changes to the workers' compensation scheme to water down common law entitlements of injured workers have reduced common law claim numbers;
- WorkCover's current and future financial position;
- the scheme's impact on the Queensland economy; and
- Queensland's competitiveness and employment growth.
The Queensland workers' compensation scheme provides payment of statutory benefits to injured workers in the State. It also pays for the medical expenses for treatment and rehabilitation caused by injury at work.
It is a "short tail" scheme which provides for the payment of benefits until an injury is judged "stable and stationary". A claim cannot go more than five years and weekly benefits are capped at $200,000 over the life of the claim.
The scheme also provides workers the right to bring common law claims for damages for the pain, suffering, permanent impairment, loss of income and loss of earning capacity for injuries caused by negligent work accidents and unsafe work practices.
While workers' compensation premiums are a cost to business, it should be a comfort to employers in Queensland that the State has the second-lowest premiums in the country at 1.45 per cent of wages.
The only cheaper premium is in Victoria, which is at 1.29per cent of wages, but employers pay for the first two weeks of wages if a worker makes a claim or alternatively pays an increased premium. As the Queensland Law Society stated in its submission to the Parliamentary Enquiry, the Queensland and Victorian WorkCover premiums are therefore effectively about the same.
Despite this, it is feared that there is strong agitation from the government to push down the premium further, which would be coupled with reduced entitlements to injured workers.
If the State Government is serious about looking at increasing Queensland's competitiveness, in improving employment growth and helping the Queensland economy, it should look at repealing its regressive payroll tax which taxes employers with a payroll of more than $1.1 million at a rate of 4.75 per cent of the payroll. One would think there would be no greater disincentive to employers than to tax them for employing staff.
Despite this, it is believed that the government is looking at a number of changes to the WorkCover system in Queensland.
It is believed that part of the changes to the system is to follow the lead of New South Wales and to end the entitlement of workers to receive statutory benefits for injuries suffered whilst travelling to and from work.
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