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Unions hitch cart to Brokenshire bandwagon

Politics

The state’s Police Association is going it alone in pushing for compensation exemptions for frontline officers injured in the line of duty, as a swag of other unions surf in on a wave of public support for its campaign.

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The police union last week fired a PR salvo by highlighting the case of officers such as Senior Constable Brett Gibbons, who won a bravery award after his jawbone was shattered by a shotgun blast.

Gibbons, who had been trying to rescue a young boy shot during a triple homicide, fears he will be liable for his own medical payments with compensation to most injured workers cut after two years under the Government’s new Return to Work laws.

Unions for ambulance workers, firefighters, nurses and other public-sector employees have since spoken out against the laws, which were introduced last year with bipartisan support.

But despite the groundswell, the Police Association – one of the only unions to consistently voice public opposition to the changes – says it’s only pushing for amendments for frontline police officers.

Those are being championed by Family First MLC Robert Brokenshire, via an amendment to the Police Act, rather than the Return to Work legislation.

Police Association president Mark Carroll told InDaily in a statement: “What we are seeking, and what Robert Brokenshire’s Bill is setting out to achieve, is amendments to the Police Act, specifically to assist injured police officers.

“We’re not seeking amendments to the Return to Work Act.”

Greens MLC Tammy Franks is scathing of other unions jumping on the bandwagon, arguing only the police and the CFMEU (at the time not affiliated with the Labor Party) publicly opposed the Bill at the time it was debated.

She said she sought input from affected unions ahead of the debate, but only the CFMEU responded.

“It’s quite clear they (other unions) didn’t advocate for their membership,” she said.

She said the Greens were likely to support Brokenshire’s Bill, but maintained the exemption should be applied to “all workers…who have devastating life-changing injuries”.

Asked on ABC891 today whether his union was playing “catch-up”, Ambulance Employees Association president Phil Palmer said: “Well … such is life.”

“Good on the Police Association for raising the issue…obviously both the major parties supported it so it seemed like a lost cause despite our concerns,” he said.

“But we remain concerned…and we were already working in conjunction with the United Firefighters Union to express our concerns to John Rau.”

Simon Johnson, from the Public Service Association, told the station any exemptions for police “ought to flow to our members who work in dangerous environments”.

Nursing Federation secretary Elizabeth Dabars insisted “this issue was in fact raised and agitated” by SA Unions when it was first introduced.

She said she would like the “main legislation” amended, “and to that end I have written to John Rau indicating our concern”.

“Similarly to the police, we do get exposed to violent activity,” she said.

“So we are certainly agitating for this change and I would like to see it on a more global scope because all workers are entitled to that same protection.”

Rau told fiveAA on Friday the Return to Work legislation had been operating since July and there is “a three-year review clause embedded in the legislation”.

“We of course will be reviewing the legislation when it’s had a bit of time to run, but the idea that a piece of legislation that’s been running, and running very well, for only a few months needs to be rehashed…people should just let see how the legislation tumbles out,” he said.

“If there are individual cases of particular hardship…they can be dealt with on a case by case basis.”

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