A standoff between the Malinauskas Government and the Labor Party’s own affiliated unions was defused early this week with an eleventh hour compromise over changed to the Return To Work regime.
It came after 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.
But SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros says another matter currently before the court of appeal has the potential to significantly change the landscape for injured workers.
It involves recruitment agency worker Nigel Williams, who is seeking compensation for injuring both his knees through repetitive climbing of ladders at work and “working in a crouched or kneeling position”.
Williams is appealing a decision that the impairments from both knee injuries could not be combined in a compensation claim, but Return To Work has filed a notice of contention, which Bonaras says seeks to challenge the correctness of the previous Summerfield decision.
Bonaros told parliament this week “the clear implication of the action taken by Return To Work is that the Summerfield case may well be overturned”.
“The action by Return To Work SA in the Williams case appears to be entirely inconsistent with the Government’s proposed changes to the legislation, which is very concerning,” she said.
“The corporation has filed a notice of alternative contention, which has the goal of achieving an outcome that strikes down the Summerfield decision.”
Bonaros said Premier Peter Malinauskas, who brokered the compromise between unions and business groups this week, “either wants to protect injured workers or he doesn’t”.
“He can’t have it both ways,” she said.
“If the Government’s bona fides are in protecting the Summerfield determination, why has Return to Work challenged the judgement? And not only has it challenged the appeal, it has also requested the matter be heard by five judges.
“If the Government is genuine in its intent to protect workers, it would withdraw both those applications immediately… the action by Return to Work SA in this case is entirely inconsistent with the Government’s proposed changes to the Return to Work legislation.
Attorney-General Kyam Maher told InDaily in a statement he had “sought a briefing on the Williams matter and will carefully consider any implications raised by the case”.
“The Government intends that the principles for the combination of impairment will continue to operate as described by the Full Court of the Supreme Court in the Summerfield decision,” he insisted.
But Bonaros told parliament yesterday the challenge to the Williams case was not isolated, and that “just this week at least two other challenges to Summerfield have been filed by Return To Work SA”.
“Why on earth is Return To Work still lodging challenges to cases?” she said.
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