Branch Secretary Peter Biagini has reacted angrily to Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie’s decision to amend the definition of ‘worker’ to prevent contractors from accessing the WorkCover scheme.
The Industrial Relations (Transparency and Accountability of Industrial Organisations) and Other Acts Amendment Bill passed earlier this month to adopt the Australian Taxation Office’s meaning of ‘worker’.
Bleijie says many contractors already have 24-hour sickness and accident insurance, but Biagini says owner-drivers relied on WorkCover to pay their medical expenses if they were injured on the job.
“The benefit of using WorkCover is it would pay loss of wages plus medical bills. Sickness and accident only covers loss of wages,” he says.
Biagini says owner-drivers will now need to take out private health insurance, but adds that there are many out there who will not be able to afford to do so.
“They are struggling to keep their heads above water now, let alone end up with the extra cost of taking out health insurance. If something happens, and it’s likely to happen out on the highway, this is another thing that will help push them over the edge,” he says.
Bleijie claims the definition needed to be altered because it had caused confusion among businesses, but two parliamentary committees argued otherwise.
“The Committee agreed that the definition, as it currently stands, has been tested at law and fundamentally works. Any change to that definition will impact on both employers and workers,” a report from the Finance and Administration Committee says.
The Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee, which examined the Bill, urged Bleije to accept the Finance and Administration Committee’s findings.
Biagini says he cannot understand why the Queensland Government tinkered with the scheme.
“It’s a good scheme, best in Australia. Coverage for workers is why it’s the best. It’s very well run, so why play with it?” he asks.
Biagini criticised Bleijie for not consulting the TWU before using its numbers to push the Bill through Parliament. He has also expressed doubt owner-drivers who take out private health cover will be able to pass the cost on to customers.
“What he has done is put a real big cost [on owner-drivers] and it will break some of them,” Biagini says.
The union secretary says he is also concerned there is a lack of awareness among owner-drivers of the change.
“Most of them will not be aware of it until something happens. That’s what I’m afraid of. It’s one of those things – out of sight, out of mind. You don’t realise until you need it that it’s no longer there.”
The Opposition refused to support the Bill and accused the Government of trying to make it harder for claimants to pursue their rights under the workers compensation scheme.