Ignoring recommendations, Bleijie alters meaning of 'worker'


Queensland Government passes legislation changing the definition of 'worker' to exclude contractors

By Brad Gardner | June 6, 2013

Queensland has passed legislation to change the definition of ‘worker’ in a move that prevents contractors accessing workers compensation.

The State Government last night used its parliamentary majority to push through the Industrial Relations (Transparency and Accountability of Industrial Organisations) and Other Acts Amendment Bill, which also imposes new conditions on employer groups and unions.

The legislation adopts the meaning of ‘worker’ used by the Australian Taxation Office .

Despite two parliamentary committees arguing against the change, Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie says it is necessary because the definition in the Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation Act had caused confusion.

"WorkCover Queensland had requested we urgently clarify the definition of a worker for workers compensation, especially for construction workers and companies, and bring it into line with the Australian Tax Office," he says.

But the Opposition, which refused to support the legislation, says there is nothing wrong with the current definition.

"It has been operating effectively for years and the courts have been able to effectively and efficiently interpret the law and apply the meaning contained in the Act to great effect," Deputy Leader Tim Mulherin says.

"The real motive behind the proposed change is to reduce the number of people who are covered by the workers compensation scheme, particularly those in the construction industry. It is unfair and it will impact on workers and their families and further undermine the economy of this state."

The Finance and Administration Committee reviewed the workers compensation scheme and recommended the definition should not be changed.

"The Committee agreed that the definition, as it currently stands, has been tested at law and fundamentally works. Any change to that definition will impact on both employers and workers," the committee’s report says.

The Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee, which examined the Bill, issued the same recommendation in its report released this month.

"The Committee recommends the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice accept the recommendations of the Finance and Administration Committee in relation to the definition of 'worker'," its report says.

"As such, the Committee recommends that the definition of 'worker' in the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 remain unchanged and the relevant provisions in the Bill relating to the amendment of that Act be removed.

In its official response to the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee’s report, the Government stated: "The application of the tests in the existing definition of worker have caused significant confusion around when an employer is required to hold a policy of insurance to cover a "worker" for a work-related injury."

The Bill also alters arrangements for Queensland’s 32 employer associations and 34 trade unions currently registered in the State.

From July 1, organisations will need to ballot members for expenditure of more than $10,000 on political campaigns. Bleijie says the legislation will also introduce greater transparency and accountability.

"New disclosure requirements, including personal interests and gifts declarations, will ensure greater accountability by decision makers in these organisations. Officials and decision makers occupy a privileged position and it is important they are kept to the highest standard," he says.

"Maximum penalties for dishonesty have been increased from $22,000 to $340,000 and/or five years imprisonment, in line with the Corporations Act.




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