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Unions take on Labor over compo 'betrayal'

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Unions today launched a targeted campaign against the Malinauskas Government over its workers’ compensation overhaul, accusing Labor of “betraying” its founding values by potentially forcing injured workers into poverty.

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It comes as Attorney-General Kyam Maher admits some workers will be “worse off” under his proposed changes and he won’t rule out withdrawing his Bill and starting again.

SA Unions this morning launched a website – Stand Up for Injured Workers – enlisting the public’s help to pressure the Government to pull its legislation, which “blind-sided” unions when it was introduced last week.

“Your urgent action is needed to make (Premier) Peter Malinauskas and his Labor Government withdraw their legislation changing the Return to Work Act… that will cut severely injured workers off of the important medical care they need and potentially send them into poverty,” the website states.

“The decision by the Government to pursue these changes isn’t just an attack on working South Australians. It attacks our most severely injured. It attacks workers who without adequate support could face a life of poverty.”

A screenshot of a new website launched by SA Unions campaigning against the State Government’s proposed overhaul of injured workers’ compensation.

The website asks workers to submit their details to send messages direct to all Government MPs.

“We’re asking for workers like you to email Labor Party members of the SA Parliament to let them know that this is just not acceptable,” it says.

“Complete the form and send an email to let Labor Government MPs know just how important this is to workers.”

The website has a live counter and shows that already more than 200 people have sent messages since it launched this morning.

The website says “the Australian Labor Party was built of the union movement, for the union movement”.

“What sets Labor apart are the founding values that define it – an unwavering commitment to fight for dignity in work and in life,” it says.

“The introduction of the Return to Work Bill is not only a betrayal of firm commitments by the Parliamentary Labor Party to the workers of South Australia, it is an attack on the core values of Labor.

“It flies in the face of the Labor party platform, party rules and must be withdrawn.”

A screenshot of a new website launched by SA Unions campaigning against the State Government’s proposed overhaul of injured workers’ compensation.

Unions, including key health care sectors, met with Maher last night to vent their anger over the legislation, accusing the Government of “absolute hypocrisy” and “short-sightedness” as the Premier engages in a publicity blitz selling his health-heavy budget.

The standoff has come months after the High Court rejected a Return To Work SA appeal against a decision in the case of injured truck driver Shane Summerfield, who was left permanently injured after a 2016 workplace accident.

Summerfield was granted additional compensation for complications from his original injuries, including an ongoing limp and back pain.

But Attorney-General Kyam Maher has sought to tighten the compensation regime to guard against future such cases – in the process igniting a fight with the unions that backed the Government into office.

This morning, Maher told InDaily changes were needed to prevent blowouts in businesses’ premiums but conceded “there will be some injured workers who may not receive as much compensation as they would (now)”.

His admission follows comments he made this morning during an ABC Radio interview that “there will be injured workers who will be worse off compared to how they would have been under the Summerfield decision”.

Asked by InDaily if he would consider withdrawing his legislation and go back to the drawing board in consultation with unions to reform the scheme, Maher said he was “not going to rule anything in or out” but insisted “we need something passed by the winter break”.

Maher argued the return to work scheme “isn’t financially viable” in its current form and that it was estimated it would soon be “$1 billion in debt and growing at $100 million each year”.

He said he would consider “all suggestions” put forward by unions, which want the Bill axed and reform to start over.

“Certainly unions expressed a displeasure at the legislation that’s currently before Parliament but certainly over the last couple of weeks there have been quite a number of different suggestions that have been put forward and I have undertaken that we will consider all the suggestions that have been put forward,” he said.

Asked what some of those suggestions were, he said: “I’m not going to start traversing everything everyone has talked about. I’m not going to start ruling anything in or out yet but we will be considering everything that’s been suggested to us.”

“We are determined that the return to work scheme needs to be financially viable… we are open to suggestions and quite a number have been made,” he said.

It’s understood a resolution relating to consulting with unions was moved at a meeting of Labor’s state executive this morning.

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation state secretary Elizabeth Dabars told InDaily the union “strongly restated” its position at last night’s meeting that “the Bill should be removed from consideration and a full review of the legislation undertaken”.

SA Unions secretary Dale Beasley said: “It’s disappointing that the State Government hasn’t yet taken the opportunities that are in front of them to withdraw the current Bill from Parliament and enter into the considered, consultative process that so many stakeholders in the system including unions and injured workers, doctors and lawyers are calling for.”

Asked if he was hopeful that the legislation might be withdrawn, he said “the Attorney-General has told us that he is prepared to consider all options”.

“We are looking forward to some further dialogue with the Attorney later in the week… so we might know a bit more then,” he said.

“But unfortunately as it stands today, workers, particularly injured workers who are worried about what these changes are going to mean for them do not have any confidence about how this matter is going to progress – they’re left in limbo.”

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