The NSW Government has introduced significant changes to the workers compensation scheme in NSW. It is beyond the scope of this blog to identify all those changes, I’m sure there are ‘workers compensation’ blogs that will be able to give us all the details.
What is of note here is that the original bill, the Workers Compensation Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 said:
25 Police officers,
The benefits amendments do not apply to or in respect of an injury received by a police officer (before or after the commencement of this clause), and the Workers Compensation Acts (and the regulations under those Acts) apply to and in respect of such an injury as if those amendments had not been enacted.
The Bill amends the ‘Workers Compensation Act 1987 and other Acts with respect to the reform of the NSW workers compensation scheme.’ The effect of Schedule 12, Clause 25 (above) is to create two workers compensations schemes in NSW. One for police, who get all the benefits on the Workers Compensation Act 1987 as it was on 21 June 2012; and one for everyone else.
Following protests and strike action by firefighters employed by NSW Fire and Rescue, last minute changes were made as the Act went through the Parliament. The Bill as passed now says:
25 Police officers, paramedics and firefighters
The amendments made by the 2012 amending Act do not apply to or in respect of an injury received by a police officer, paramedic or firefighter (before or after the commencement of this clause), and the Workers Compensation Acts (and the regulations under those Acts) apply to and in respect of such an injury as if those amendments had not been enacted.
That’s all well and good if we’re happy for there to be a two tiered workers compensation scheme in NSW but it has its own problems; ‘paramedic’ and ‘firefighter’ are not defined. As has been noted elsewhere on this blog, paramedics are not registered health professionals so it’s not at all clear who is a paramedic. One day a court is going to have to decide that issue given this law. A person who has a degree in paramedic and works as an industrial health care officer could well be a paramedic, as could someone without that degree? And why should they get the old scheme when a nurse, also working in an industrial health care setting will not? What about a trainee ambulance officer? What about firefighters? Again that phrase is not defined so a person who works as a firefighter but not for NSW Fire and Rescue is surely a firefighter. What if they do those tasks as only part of their job?
This scheme will no doubt lead to inconsistencies; imagine a rescue helicopter crashes, on board are the pilot, a doctor, a paramedic and the patient and all die. All killed in the same accident, the same ultimate injury but at least three compensation schemes in place, the pilot and the doctor are under the ‘new’ scheme, the paramedic the old scheme and the patient, who is not ‘at work’ will have to show that someone, the pilot or the helicopter operator was ‘negligent’. Consider also the recent case where a paramedic was killed whilst working from a rescue helicopter. If that accident happened now, the paramedic would get a different level of compensation than a doctor or a crewman doing the very same job.
Compensation for personal injuries depends more on ‘status’ (are you an employee, a customer, a road user, a patient) much more than it depends on what happened and what your injuries are. This new scheme compounds that problem.
There are two objections here. One is that we have a two tiered scheme in the first place. According to the ABC:
Shadow treasurer Michael Daley says the legislation goes to far.
“We now have the most harsh workplace injury laws in all of Australia,” Mr Daley said.
“They are drastic. They will hurt ordinary people.”
Rather than have the ‘most harsh workplace injury laws in all of Australia’ except for police, paramedics and firefighters, it would be better not to have the ‘most harsh workplace injury laws in all of Australia’; for anyone. If the changes are needed there is little in principle reason why any class of employees should be exempt. Either these changes are needed, or they are not.
The other objection is that exemptions like these are pushed through, quickly and without being properly considered. There is no doubt that anyone who thinks they are a paramedic, but who is not at the time of their injury, working for NSW Ambulance may well have to go to the Supreme Court to see what ‘paramedic’ means, the same for fire fighters.
22 June 2012