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New Return to Work Bill for South Australia

Return to workSouth Australia has introduced the new Return to Work Bill 2014 to Parliament on 6 August, commencing what will be the most significant reform to the State’s workers’ compensation system in over 25 years. The Return to Work Bill proposes the introduction of a new scheme to replace the current Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1986.

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has said that the existing scheme is “failing at the most basic level” and that this was “hurting workers by denying them the opportunity to return to the job they left, and was hurting business through expensive premiums the longer workers were not at work”.

A national survey into Return to Work performance between states found that although South Australia’s return to work rate has been improving, it has consistently been below the national average for many years. This has prompted the reform to reduce costs, eliminate workers’ dependency on the scheme and increase focus on returning to work.

The current workers rehabilitation and compensation scheme has some of the worst return to work rates in Australia, with 11% of Work Cover claims extending past six months but accounting for 92% of the scheme’s costs. This has resulted in South Australian employers paying the highest average premium rate in Australia of about 2.75% of payroll.

Furthermore, one in four workers who are injured at work and stay off work for more than two weeks, remain off work for two years or more.

One problem is that the current system treats injuries with a “one size fits all” approach. Although the number of seriously injured workers is small, those workers require extra support, case management and care. The new Return to Work Bill aims to recognise the difference between serious and more minor injuries, and treat each appropriately.

Under the existing framework, an injury or disease must “arise from employment” to be compensable. This can disadvantage employers if an injury is predominantly caused by non-work factors. The reform will set new thresholds for determining injuries or diseases. For example, the test for psychiatric injury will be strengthened so that employment needs to be the significant contributing cause of the injury.

The Scheme’s stated intention is for South Australia to have a workers’ compensation system that has comparable costs to other jurisdictions.

Minister Rau predicts that small businesses with around 10 employees paying $12,500 annually on WorkCover premiums could save approximately $5,000 under the Scheme, and that larger businesses with around 200 employees, presently paying around $300,000 per year, could save more than $120,000 per year.

Overall, Premier Weatherill predicts that this reform will lead to savings of around $180 million per year for South Australian businesses, and that the changes will be “vital for South Australian businesses, big and small, to remain competitive.”

It is intended that the Scheme will be up and running by mid-2015.

 

About the Author

Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

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