On 15 July 2015, a Bill to amend the Workers’ Compensation & Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld) was introduced into Parliament. The Bill implements a number of policy proposals by the current Queensland Government in its pre-election policy document Restoring the Rights of Queenslanders Injured at Work.
The Bill has since been referred to the Parliamentary Finance & Administration Committee and if passed, will make a number of changes to Queensland’s workers’ compensation scheme, the most significant of which comprise:
- 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 from the date of the Queensland State election (31 January 2015);
- establishing the ability to provide additional compensation to particular workers impacted by the operation of the common law threshold, between 15 October 2013 and 31 January 2015;
- the introduction of provisions for fire fighters diagnosed with one of 12 specified diseases that will deem their injury to be work-related if they meet the required qualifying period of active fire fighting service;
- the removal of the prospective employer’s right to obtain a copy of a prospective worker’s compensation claims history from the Workers’ Compensation Regulator; and
- clarification of certain procedural aspects of the claims process and reduction of the regulatory burden through a number of minor miscellaneous amendments.
Whilst the removal of the 5% threshold for access to common law is likely to result in a substantial increase in the number of damages claims brought in Queensland by injured workers against their employers, the Bill’s Explanatory Notes state that this legislative amendment will be achieved without an increase in the average premium rate of $1.20 per $100.00 wages paid by employers. According to the Bill’s Explanatory Notes, once these legislative changes have been introduced, WorkCover Queensland will remain fully solvent as, whilst its substantial reserves are reduced, the solvency target of 120% will be maintained. This target is above the level of solvency required in any other centrally funded workers’ compensation scheme in Australia.
It is essential employers understand the implications of the proposed amendments to Queensland’s workers’ compensation scheme, to be in the best position to defend workers’ compensation claims.
Whilst significant changes to the scheme have been proposed, other aspects of the Act remain unchanged, such as the definitions of "worker" and "injury", as well as the provisions in relation to journey claims. From an employer’s perspective, the most immediate impact the proposed changes, if passed, will have on their day to day operations, is that they will no longer be able to obtain a copy of a prospective worker’s claims history summary as part of their recruitment procedures.