Page 407 - Week 02 - Tuesday, 16 February 2016
workers resume suitable duties at the workplace or return to work as soon as practicable. It also sets out duties of the employer in relation to the return-to-work coordinators; duties such as ensuring return-to-work coordinators are suitably qualified and filling a position in a reasonable time frame if it is vacant.
I think these are good changes. Return-to-work support is an important part of worker wellbeing. It is well known that returning to work is actually a very important way of helping a worker recover, and there are a range of health benefits: it is an opportunity to be active and do something positive; it helps with self-esteem; and it helps injured people take responsibility and actively participate with peers in the workplace.
I read some rather disturbing facts published by WorkCover Tasmania which said that being out of work long term increases the rate of suicide by about six times and is a greater health risk than most dangerous jobs. That underlines the value of reinforcing the opportunities for people to get back to work as quickly as possible.
The second amendment in this bill, and one that Mr Smyth has just spoken about in some detail, is an amendment to inspector powers. Inspectors will be permitted to enter workplaces to perform additional checks and inspections. Inspectors already have entry powers under the Work Health and Safety Act to check and enforce a range of worker health and safety obligations. This bill will permit them to also enter to ensure employers are complying with workers compensation obligations. These include checking that: employers maintain a current workers compensation policy; they declare the correct wage and industry classification information to insurers; they are paying injured workers their legal entitlements; and they are providing appropriate assistance to injured workers in relation to returning to work.
I believe that these are appropriate powers. First of all, it brings administrative efficiency. WorkSafe ACT inspectors conduct both workers compensation and work health and safety activity checks, so it is efficient to align their powers in terms of entry. Secondly, inspectors are performing an important duty protecting workers’ rights and health and safety. Employers who do not comply with their obligations prevent workers from receiving the compensation and support to which they are entitled. Appropriate inspector powers and a work health and safety and workers compensation scheme that is administered efficiently across the territory will help ensure compliance and improve outcomes for workers in the territory.
Thirdly, I think the entry right is balanced appropriately in the bill. It is already expected that businesses will undergo inspections to check that they are compliant. The bill establishes conditions around entry. For example, inspectors can only inspect private residences that are workplaces if they reasonably believe that no reasonable alternative access is available, and the inspection is to be undertaken at a reasonable time.
I am happy to support this bill as I think it provides well-balanced improvements to the inspector powers, which are important to protecting the entitlements of employees. I also note that there are minor amendments which have been circulated and which respond to scrutiny comments on the bill. I am happy to support those minor amendments as well.