Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 2 Hansard (9 March) . . Page.. 534..
MR MULCAHY (continuing):
they are employees. The difference is that they are not insured for accidents. In order to ensure that all carers are covered, the amendment, clause 16A, allows the minister to classify carers who work for Communities@Work or other such organisations as workers for the purpose of giving them workers compensation coverage under the act. It is important to note that the classification of worker in this case only applies for the purpose of the Workers Compensation Act; it is for those in other areas of government to deal with the other issues.
There is an anomaly in the present act which, for people approaching retirement, results in workers compensation benefits being greater for men than for women. This apparently occurs because men qualify for the pension at the age of 65, whereas women qualify between ages 60 and 64 years and six months if they were born prior to 1948. The effect of this is that a woman born before 1948 who is insured for more than two years before a pension age has a shorter period of entitlement to workers compensation benefits than a man with the same injury. This anomaly is resolved by replacing the words "pension age"with "65", and that is in clauses 9 and 10.
Another anomaly is the conflict between sections 39 and 42 of the act. Section 39 provides for the value of compensation payments for up to 26 weeks of partial incapacity to be the difference between, one, the worker's average wage before the accident and, two, the wage after the accident or the amount he or she could earn in reasonably available suitable employment. The words "the amount he or she could earn in reasonably available suitable employment"were inadvertently omitted from section 42. This bill corrects that error.
I have had discussions with my office. There is some scope for interpretations other than what we were advised was the intent of these amendments through those provisions. But given the advice we have had from the government, we will support those and accept that the intent of those amendments is as advised.
On the question of whether workers compensation covers rehabilitation, an ACT Supreme Court decision has questioned the liability of an insurer to pay rehabilitation expenses as the act was drafted. This was in the matter of Cassandra Ann Andrikis v the Nominal Defendant, a decision of 11 June 2004. Section 70 is amended to clarify that rehabilitation is covered by workers compensation insurance.
Of course the downside of the amendment to deem carers who currently work on contract with a family day care or in-home care provider to be workers for the purposes of the act is that there will probably be an increase in charges, although the amount has not yet been determined. That cost must of course be weighed against the carers in question having no insurance cover, which is a situation that we cannot countenance given that they are clearly employees. But that extra cost still must be acknowledged, which is a consequence of these changes.
I have expressed concern in previous debates on workers compensation and occupational health and safety matters about the high and rising cost in the ACT. I would like to see the minister apply greater focus in using her influence to drive down the cost of workers compensation insurance. It is an issue on which I receive a number of calls from members of the public, and there are obvious disparities between ourselves and other jurisdictions that are regularly cited to me by constituents.