THE Australian Lawyers Allinace (ALA), Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ) and the Queensland Council of Unions (QCU) have joined forces in fighting proposed amendments to the federal workers' compensation scheme, stating the changes are a 'retrograde step for Queensland' that will result in higher and volatile premiums for small business and fewer benefits for the state's 2.1 million workers.
In a joint letter, the three organisations have strongly urged all senators to block the passage of the safety, rehabilitation and compensation amendment bill 2014 before the upper house.
The bill proposes to open up the federal workers' compensation scheme, known as Comcare, to a wider range of big businesses that operate across interstate borders.
CCIQ director of advocacy Nick Behrens says it is significant the organisations had come together, and had done so because of a collective view these amendments would be a retrograde step for Queensland small businesses and workers.
"Queensland government analysis shows a substantial number of big businesses will be eligible to exit the Queensland workers' compensation scheme if this Bill is passed," Behrens says.
"That is of significant concern for small business it could result in a reduction in total premium income of over $250 million, or 18 per cent of the $1.4 billion WorkCover Queensland premium pool.
"This will inevitably lead to greater premium volatility, leaving an estimated 138,000 workers' compensation schemes would create an unnecessary overlap, leading to decreased safety outcomes for workers and increased red tape for employers.
"These small businesses do not operate across interstate boarders and many will not be in a position to absorb premium fluctuations from a reduced premium pool.
"Stakeholders across the political spectrum in Queensland have worked hard to ensure that all employers, irrespective of size, and workers have access to an efficient, fair, stable and cost effective workers' compensation scheme that is well recognised as one of the best schemes in Australia.
"If this bill is passed, it will undo that work, and it will create an unequal playing field where small businesses are forced to take a hit.
"That's why the CCIQ, ALA and QCU strongly urge all Senators to block the passage of this Bill in the Senate."
QCU General Secretary Ron Monaghan says a broadening of Comcare to operate alongside state-based workers' compensation schemes would create an unnecessary overlap, leading to decreased safety outcomes for workers and increased red tape for employers.
"If these amendments pass, they will increase costs and reduce productivity through duplication and overlap in regulating work health and safety arrangements in multiple jurisdictions," Monaghan says.
"The effects of that will be two-fold: decreased safety outcomes for workers and increased red tape for employers."
ALA Queensland President Rod Hodgson says if passed the bill would not only undermine Queensland's well-functioning workers' compensation scheme, it would also add more organisations to the ineffective Comcare scheme, which has a poor record on safety and benefits for injured employees.
"Queensland has the best performing workers' compensation scheme in Australia, not only on solvency but in delivering amongst the lowest average premiums for businesses across the last 10 years. The scheme also delivers benefits to injured workers and their families that are both fair and reasonable," Hodgson says.
"Comcare is a poorly functioning scheme. It is poor for employers, who continue to pay hefty premiums, and it is poor for employees the Scheme has completely inadequate workplace health and safety provisions in place to protect employees and support those injured at work.
"In proposing to open up the scheme we are facing a scenario of making what is a poor Commonwealth scheme for all stakeholders worse, and gutting our own well-functioning State scheme in the process."
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