ACT News

Firies, nurses, teachers to be stripped of compo rights, say unions

More than 20,000 Canberra firefighters, paramedics, nurses, teachers and other public servants are set to be stripped of compensation rights if they are injured at work, according to trades unions.

'Very strange': Firefighters threatened with axe as Whale Beach house burned
'Very strange': Firefighters threatened with axe as Whale Beach house burned Photo: Paul Jeffers

A new workers' compensation system for ACT government workers will be "devastating" to their rights, according to a coalition of eight unions who are vowing to fight for a better deal.

But the government says it is acting in the best interest of its workers' health, it is still talking to the unions and that the final design of a new workers' compo system is far from finalised.

The territory is taking its public sector workers out of the much-maligned federal Comcare scheme, which covers the Australian Public Service, after years of spiralling premiums, believing it can get a better deal by going it alone.

When it announced the move a year ago the territory said it wanted to design a new compensation system that put money into getting public servants back to work instead of paying them to stay at home,  and opened talks with public sector unions.

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But their local peak body Unions ACT is not happy with what it has seen of the government's plans, issuing a tough-talking bulletin to its members warning that the planned new system would leave them much worse off than Comcare would if they were hurt at work.

"Major changes to the public sector workers compensation scheme could remove important protections and rights for firefighters, paramedics, nurses, teachers and every other public sector worker in Canberra," the bulletin states.

"Many of the proposed changes would make it much much harder for workers with serious injuries or diseases to access workers' compensation."

Unions ACT, which is also at loggerheads with the ACT government over the trial of the "fit-note" as a possible replacement for the traditional doctor's sick note, said some of the new compo proposals could prove "devastating" for workers.

"The effect on some of the most vulnerable injured public sector workers would be devastating," the union bulletin states.

"We have significant concerns about the various models that the ACT government has proposed.

"Many of the proposed changes would make it much much harder for workers with serious injuries or diseases to access workers' compensation."

But Industrial Relations Minister Mick Gentleman told The Canberra Times on Tuesday that the government wanted to put its employees' health and wellbeing at the heart of any new scheme.

"The creation of a new scheme will emphasise the importance of minimising work absence for protecting the health, wellbeing and future employment prospects of injured workers," the minister said.

"The government is yet to settle on a scheme design and as such union negotiations are ongoing and are contemplating a wide range of design options.

"All of the design options that have been considered focus on achieving a safe, timely and supported recovery and return to work for workers whose injuries allow them to do so as well as support and compensation for seriously injured workers whose injuries are severe enough to cause very long-term work absence.

"The government remains committed to working closely with trade unions and other stakeholders.

"To this end the government has sought input from a select group of union officials who have significant experience in workers' compensation systems, negotiations with this group are ongoing."

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