No workers compensation for public servants injured on breaks away from workplace

Public servants injured while taking breaks away from their workplace will no longer be entitled to workers’ compensation payouts, in changes to the Comcare scheme tabled in Parliament yesterday.

The amendments will also rule out compensation payments to workers who hurt themselves through their own ”serious and wilful misconduct”, even if it kills them.

The changes, which also open up the Comcare scheme to many more private sector players who can now become ”self-insured” under its umbrella, fall short of the sweeping changes recommended by a government-ordered review last year.

But one of the authors of the review said on Wednesday that an expected influx of private companies into Comcare will ramp up pressure for more changes to the insurance scheme so that it operates ”rationally and sensibly”.

Comcare lost $98 million in 2012-13, blaming more psychological claims in public service workplaces and injured bureaucrats staying off work longer.

The scheme’s long-term liability for payouts is now more than $2.6 billion, with 35 per cent of it unfunded, and 2012’s horror losses of more than half a billion dollars were revised upward to a paper loss of $670 million after changes to accounting practices.

The federal government says its changes, introduced into Parliament as part of its assault on red tape, will reduce the regulatory impact on the economy by $32.8 million a year. The amendments will change the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act scheme so that workers who leave their workplaces during scheduled breaks and hurt themselves during non-work activity, will not be covered, says manager of government business Christopher Pyne.

”Workers’ compensation could be payable, for example, where an employee sustains an injury while shopping, at a restaurant or playing sport away from the employee’s place of employment during a lunch break,” Mr Pyne told the House on Wednesday. ”This bill addresses this unfair arrangement.

”Workers who are injured at work, even while having a recess or lunch break, will remain fully covered.

”Injuries that occur while the worker is away from the workplace undertaking activities associated with the employee’s employment or at the request or direction of the employer will also still be covered.”

The new bill also rules out new compensation claims where workers are hurt through ”their own serious and wilful misconduct” even if it kills them or leaves them permanently disabled.

”While claims in this category are rare, the Australian public rightly expects that employees should take personal responsibility for their actions,” Mr Pyne said.

”The government believes that the

workers’ compensation scheme should be geared towards people acting in a proper and safe manner, and not include a safety net for people who break the rules and put at risk not just themselves but other employees.”

Melbourne barrister Peter Hanks, who wrote a review of the scheme last year, said the changes introduced on Wednesday were minimal but that he expected a big increase in private sector players into the scheme, attracted by the prospect of one set of federal regulations, not eight state and territory legal regimes.

”Once they let a lot of new employers into the scheme, I think the pressure to make other changes to the scheme will build up,” Mr Hanks said.

”Those employers will want it to operate rationally and a lot of the recommendations that were in my report were directed to that end, were directed to make it operate sensibly and rationally.”