Workcover under attack

Issue 

On October 8, around 500 workplace delegates and occupational health and safety representatives attended a meeting called by the Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC).

The meeting was called in response to a list of changes to the current WorkCover legislation recommended by Peter Hanks QC, commissioned last year to conduct an inquiry into the 1985 Workers Compensation Act.

The government of then-premier Jeff Kennett made a number of changes to Victoria's Accident Compensation Act, greatly reducing injured workers' access to compensation and decreasing their entitlements.

It was not until 2006 that the state Labor government declared it would "review the Accident Compensation Act 1985 to ensure workers receive the assistance, support and benefits they deserve".

Now, after nine years of promises, Hanks' final report seeks to further diminish the entitlements of injured workers.

Among the proposals made is a change in the law to exclude workers from stress-related claims, if the stress comes from any "reasonable management action".

According to the VTHC this will knock out 90% of claims. Unions say all injuries should be covered by a "no-fault" system.

Hanks also proposes occupational health and safety reps, instead of unions, advocate for injured workers returning to work, effectively strengthening employers' ability to deny workers the right to return to their jobs.

It also proposes to strip the present dispute resolution system and have courts to hear disputes — a process that would add years to dispute resolution and leave workers without money and medical treatment.

The meeting moved a motion opposing all recommendations not considered by the unions to be in the best interests of workers and demanded that the government reach agreement with the VTHC on key issues.

If these demands are not met, the VTHC has vowed to take further action.