The NSW government plans to roll back a special protection for frontline workers who test positive for COVID-19, saying that no vaccines were available when the provision was made.
The special COVID-19 provision was added to the Workers Compensation Act in May 2020, soon after the start of the pandemic. It had made it easier for workers in retail, healthcare, hospitality, and other frontline industries to file a workers’ compensation claim if they caught COVID-19 presumably in the course of their employment.
The government now says the provision is out of date and unfair. In effect, the amendment placed the cost of catching COVID-19, which originated from Wuhan, China, on the shoulders of Australian businesses.
The government has said it will move to repeal the provision in parliament next week.
Premier Dominic Perrottet said on Sunday that repealing the section would mean the system is fair to employees, while also ensuring businesses aren’t hit with a spike in insurance premiums, he said.
“Now that the economy is steadily reopening, we want businesses investing in new staff and higher wages, not inflated insurance bills,” Perrottet said.
If the changes aren’t made, there could be more than 25,000 extra claims over the next year, with insurance premiums rising by A$950 on average, says Minister for Digital and Customer Service, Victor Dominello.
The government says COVID-19 claims could cost the workers’ compensation system up to $638 million over the coming year, citing Doherty Institute modelling.
Greens MP David Shoebridge, who was a key proponent of the protection, says no one should trust these figures.
“The cost to date has been less than $20 million and the government’s initial estimate was that it would be more than $8 billion over four years,” he told AAP.
The Greens will be opposing the reforms as put forward by the government, Shoebridge said.
“These are laws designed to protect our frontline workers, the nurses, the teachers, the retail workers, who put themselves on the line during the pandemic.
“These workers continue to be the most at risk from catching COVID at the workplace and the government is ripping away their protections,” he said.
Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey called on the government to reconsider the “harsh, heartless and unnecessary” change.
“Any savings to government will be tiny but the impact on individual workers will be massive,” Morey said.
The most affected workers will be those who put themselves in harm’s way to serve the public, who are “overwhelmingly” women, he said.
“This is not the sort of nastiness that has gotten us through the pandemic,” Morey added.
If the repeal succeeds, workers will still be able to make claims.
But Mr Shoebridge said it would be “next to impossible for a young supermarket worker to prove they contracted COVID at work rather than at home or on public transport there and back.”
Meanwhile, about 91 per cent of people in NSW over 16 are now fully vaccinated and 94.2 per cent of adults have had their first jab.
Some 224 people remain in hospital, four fewer than the day before, with 32 in intensive care.
In the 12-15 age group, more than 80 percent have had their first dose and 72.4 percent both.
By Hannah Ryan