Public servants injured on coffee breaks should not seek compensation.

Public servants injured on coffee breaks should not seek compensation.

Public servants injured on coffee breaks away from the office will not be compensated under tough new changes to Comcare that are expected to increase costs for federal departments – and taxpayers.

The changes would take away the safety net for rule breakers by excluding bureaucrats hurt during ''serious and wilful misconduct'' or by ''voluntarily and unreasonably'' taking risks from receiving payouts.  

The Abbott government billwould also turn Comcare into a major insurer for national private companies, but legal observers have said this would push up premiums for federal government departments – a cost eventually paid by taxpayers.

The changes would introduce thousands of blue-collar workers in higher-risk industries to the Comcare scheme, which, at the moment, is focused on public servants in lower-risk white-collar desk-based jobs. 

Despite criticisms, the bill is now a step closer to being introduced. It received the support of a Senate committee, which released its report on Tuesday night, although it came with strong dissent from Labor and Greens senators, who said Comcare was already underperforming.

Critical legal observers said the changes would force state and territory compensation schemes to increase premiums to cover unfunded liability left behind by the exodus of national companies which have switched to Comcare to save money.

Maurice Blackburn special counsel Geoff Wilson said public servants would be exposed to greater risk by plans to shut down the opportunity to claim for compensation if injured during a recess from work, which included trips away from the workplace to get food or drink. 

The committee's report said workers injured in these circumstances should seek compensation from public liability and third-party insurance schemes, or from those responsible for duty of care. 

Mr Wilson said the changes would make Comcare one of the few schemes that did not cover seriously injured or dead workers in cases where they were allegedly at fault.

''This coverage exists in every other jurisdiction, and correctly so given the profound inability of a seriously injured or dead worker to respond to any employer allegation of misconduct that might be thrown up to deny simple worker's compensation coverage for the family left to deal with the results of a serious work injury or fatality.''

In its dissenting report, Labor said this proposed addition was cruel and stood in contradiction to the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Labor also said workers took their recess breaks close to their workplace, which was prescribed by their employer. 

Labor senators noted evidence that Comcare is already slack in dealing with disputed claims. Evidence showed that in 2011-12, 51.6 per cent of injured workers with claims disputed under Comcare failed to have any resolution within nine months. This compared with 4.9 per cent in NSW, 12.3 per cent in Victoria, and 4.7 per cent in Queensland.

Australian Lawyers Alliance national president Geraldine Collins said the ''burdensome, paternalistic and bureaucractic'' Comcare had no meaningful access to common-law damages for injuries caused by an employer's negligence. 

Ms Collins said this often forced Comcare to give out weekly payments to injured people, rather than lump sums.

She said this led to workers needing to constantly be in contact with Comcare for up to years at a time, not being allowed to move on, and potentially causing further injuries in the future.