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Labor pain as party tells Premier to ditch legislation

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EXCLUSIVE | The Labor Party’s governing state executive has split from the Malinauskas Government on contentious workers’ compensation changes, demanding it immediately withdraw its proposed laws ahead of an “urgent consultation” with unions.

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The Labor Government has been at loggerheads with the union movement since last week revealing legislation designed to close a perceived loophole in the state’s Return To Work laws.

It followed a landmark legal decision in favour 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.

Attorney-General Kyam Maher told InDaily yesterday consequent changes were needed to prevent blowouts in businesses’ premiums – with the Return to Work SA board pressing to lock in a payroll levy rise to 2.2 per cent in 2023-24 – but conceded “there will be some injured workers who may not receive as much compensation as they would (otherwise)”.

But the move has now been formally opposed by the governing council of the Labor Party itself.

At a state executive meeting yesterday, a motion was passed declaring: “The ALP SA state executive expresses concern about the significant impact the proposed Return To Work amendment Bill would have on injured workers in SA”.

“The ALP SA state executive calls upon the state Labor Government to withdrawn the Return To Work amendment Bill legislation and lead an urgent consultation,” it said.

The party said the Government must “ensure injured workers entitlements are fully funded”.

The Government has indicated in the days since the furore erupted it was open to negotiating on the solution, but wanted to lock in changes before parliament’s July winter break to ensure the Return To Work board – chaired by former Motor Accident Commission boss Greg McCarthy and including ex-Labor Attorney General John Rau – doesn’t formalise its higher premiums.

Significantly, the state executive motion is understood to have been moved by Demi Pnevmatikos, state secretary of United Workers Union, and seconded by shop assistants’ union boss Josh Peak – the pair representing the major Left and Right factions of the party.

Premier Peter Malinauskas is a member of the state executive but was not present at yesterday’s meeting, with his cabinet meeting in Mount Gambier.

It’s understood the motion was not opposed.

State executive does not have the authority to direct the Labor Government, but it is all-but unheard of for the party’s most senior governing body to break from government policy so dramatically – and within mere months of the ALP taking office in SA.

Asked about the motion last night, Peak told InDaily: “The SDA [Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association, which was previously led by Malinauskas himself] is very concerned about the impact the current proposed legislation could have on injured workers and our members.”

“I’ve been working very closely across the union movement and with representatives of government to see if there can be an alternative, that they can ensure injured workers are not having to pay the price of the decision of the board and inaction of the previous government,” he said.

“I’m hopeful that through goodwill on all sides we’re able to find a solution here that sees workers’ rights protected, but doesn’t see the Return To Work levy increase above 2 per cent.”

But other unions appear less hopeful, with SA Unions secretary Dale Beasley last night declaring his members were “devastated that the State Government has ignored their calls to commence a review of the Return to Work system, instead choosing to progress legislation that will reduce workers entitlements”.

“The Government should be committing to a sensible and consultative process over the coming months to recalibrate the system, instead of rushing through half baked legislation,” he said in a statement.

The union insists the government has the power cap workers’ compensation premiums, “thereby completely insulating businesses from any potential rate rises”.

“That step would give the government and stakeholders ample time to conduct a proper, considered review of the Return to Work system,” Beasley said.

“We have record low wage growth and skyrocketing costs of living – now the Government want injured workers to cop cuts to entitlements because they’d rather take shortcuts than properly review the workers’ compensation system.

“Surely we deserve better than that.”

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