SA unions force government backdown
Written by: Nick G. on 14 June 2022
A rally called by the Maritime Union in South Australia for today was cancelled when the Malinauskas Labor government withdrew legislation to amend the Return to Work Act.
The legislation aimed to save employers having to pay higher insurance premiums for coverage of injured workers by depriving workers of an entitlement fought for and won in the SA Supreme Court.
That entitlement was granted to a truck driver, Shane Summerfield, whose initial injuries were complicated over time but who faced having to lodge individual claims for each new problem. This would have made it harder for him to meet what is called the “Whole Person Injury” (WPI) threshold on which workers’ compensation payments are made.
The new State government, elected last March, wanted to sacrifice workers’ entitlements by changing the law to establish “business-friendly” credentials. It argued that without reducing workers’ entitlements to a fair workers’ compo outcome, SA employers would have had to pay the highest premiums in the country. Thus, the Constitutional stupidity of “State’s rights” and State rivalries were allowed to drive a race-to-the-bottom at the expense of workers.
The details of the “compromise” between the government, employers and unions include:
• allowing the Summerfield principle to stand, protecting the right to combine injuries during WPI assessments
• no increase to the WPI for psychological injuries, but
• increasing the seriously injured threshold from 30% to 35%, which is itself a loss of entitlement to an injured worker.
An SA Unions statement said, “The first hurdle has been cleared, but there's still work to be done.”
Unions are not entirely happy with the compromise, but the campaign, such as it was, had two positive features.
Firstly, it united the right and left factions within the SA union movement. Malinauskas is a former head of the right-wing Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Union (SDA), but the SDA was one of the first and the loudest to condemn the government’s proposed legislation, as was its factional stablemate, the Transport Workers Union.
The more progressive unions affiliated to SA Unions worked together with the right-wing to threaten a campaign of opposition to the Labor government.
The second point was that the nascent campaign showed very clearly that workers have their own independent agenda, and will fight for their own interests and demands regardless of which Party holds office. No-one fell on the old weak knee of not wanting to embarrass a Labor government.
The SA Unions statement said, “We're a united Union Movement in South Australia, and one thing is clear, we'll continue standing up for injured workers, no matter who's in government.”
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