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Jobs at risk if workers' compo reforms don't pass: SA businesses

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South Australian businesses would need to limit wage increases, cut employees and slash staff hours if the government’s contentious workers’ compensation changes do not pass parliament, a recent survey shows.

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The survey, conducted by peak industry groups including Business SA, Master Builders SA, Motor Trade Association SA, Food SA, The Australian Industry Group and SA Wine Industry Association, found only a quarter of the 756 businesses who responded could absorb the increased costs of the ReturnToWorkSA premiums.

Earlier this month, the Malinauskas Government introduced laws seeking to close a perceived loophole in the state’s Return to Work Act by ensuring workers’ injuries are treated individually rather than cumulatively.

The proposed laws were introduced following 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.

The government says its proposed law changes would protect the workforce from paying a higher premium.

But it has faced an onslaught of backlash from the union movement and Labor’s state executive, who last week demanded the proposed laws be withdrawn following concerns injured workers could be left worse off.

Business groups claim if the legislation doesn’t pass, premiums would rise by 30 per cent, leaving employers with no option but to limit wage increases, reduce staff numbers and cut hours.

The survey, conducted between June 8 and 10, found 98 per cent of businesses did not support the premium increase.

It found 57 per cent of businesses would pass on the increased costs to customers, while 49 per cent would limit wage increases.

A further 31 per cent of businesses said they would cut staff, while 24 per cent said they would reduce staff hours.

“What we are seeing here is the perfect storm of rising costs for business,” Business SA policy and advocacy director Kendall Crowe said.

“The mums and dads who own these businesses will soon have some big decisions to make – pass on the costs to customers, reduce staff numbers, or shut the doors for good.”

Master Builders SA CEO Will Frogley said business owners were “frustrated and bewildered and some are downright angry”.

“The building and construction industry is facing the highest inflation of material costs in 40 years and cannot afford further cost increases,” he said.

SA Wine Industry Association chief executive Brian Smedley added that “almost all” businesses had already faced increases in the cost of materials, transport and products, and three-quarters had increases to their electricity bills.

Meanwhile, the ACTU has become the latest union to speak against the proposed changes.

President Michele O’Neill called on the government to “sit down with unions and health experts” to discuss the impact the proposed laws would have on injured workers.

“Australia knows only too well the devastating impact of unsafe work practices,” she said.

“Every year in Australia over 5000 workers are killed at work or die from diseases caused by their work.”

The Liberal partyroom is meeting this morning to determine its position, while crossbench parties including The Greens and SA Best have previously been critical and urged the government not to rush the proposed changes through parliament.

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