On May 8, 150 unionists rallied outside the NSW parliament to protest against the move by the John Holland construction company to abandon the NSW workers' compensation scheme in favour of the federal government's Comcare.
John Holland is the first NSW construction company to adopt the federal scheme, which pays significantly lower benefits than the NSW workers' compensation scheme.
According to the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), a death benefit under Comcare is $212,000 compared to $325,000 under the NSW scheme. The maximum lump sum payment for permanent disability is $141,000 under Comcare but $220,000 under NSW workers' compensation. Workers under Comcare also lose the right to sue under common law for lost wages due to employer negligence.
"Comcare is not about care for working people — it's about care for the pockets of big business", NSW CFMEU secretary Andrew Ferguson told the rally.
Union speakers at the rally particularly highlighted the lower safety standards that are associated with Comcare. There are more than 300 workplace safety inspectors in NSW but fewer than 50 for all of Australia under Comcare.
The CFMEU is calling on NSW Premier Morris Iemma's Labor government to "ensure protections for workers are not lost on future NSW government projects such as the $2 billion desalination plant", since Labor "won the last election with a promise to defend the rights of working people from Canberra". John Holland is tendering to build the desalination plant.
The company has initiated a court case against Ferguson, claiming he has breached the privacy of one of its executives. The CFMEU has been calling on supporters of workers' rights to phone John Holland Group human resources manager Stephen Sasse to ask that the company return to the NSW workers' compensation scheme. Ferguson defiantly told the rally that the union and he personally would not be intimidated.
Union support group Worker Solidarity has produced a leaflet explaining the issues involved in this case and is joining the CFMEU in a public defence campaign. For more information, phone the CFMEU on 9749 0400 or email <firstname.lastname@example.org>.