COSBOA notes that the debate around the repeal of Section 19B of the Workers Compensation Act is set to be finalised in the NSW Lower House later today.
Introduced in 2020, this section includes a presumption that if an employee in prescribed employment catches COVID-19, it was caught at the workplace and the employment was the main contributing factor.
COSBOA CEO Alexi Boyd said “It’s really important for small business that this Bill to repeal section 19B passes. No other state in Australia has a law like this one, not even the Labor States, and for good reason – it’s not the right mechanism to compensate workers who fall ill with COVID-19.”
“If it isn’t repealed, the cost of workers compensation insurance premiums will go up at a time when many small business owners are already struggling financially, having accumulated debt by deferring rent, tax and loan payments during lockdowns. This will impede on jobs growth and economic recovery.
“Since workers compensation is compulsory, employers count it towards the total cost of employing someone. If they have to spend more on insurance, they’ll have less to spend on wages. They might even have no choice but to employ fewer people.”
Ms Boyd continued “Fundamentally, the workers compensation system wasn’t designed to offset losses caused by a virus that is likely to become endemic, one that people can catch anywhere, doing anything.
“The National Cabinet’s plan is to eventually manage COVID-19 consistent with other infectious diseases and restrictions are easing more and more to align with this goal. It’s becoming inevitable that some employees will be exposed to COVID-19, both at work and in their personal lives.
“If an employee goes to a mask-less house party after work and catches COVID, that’s not something their small business employer can (or should) control. But according to Section 19B, it’s the employer’s fault until proven otherwise. Small business people therefore have a financial interest in monitoring and/ or questioning their employees’ potentially risky behaviour outside of work hours. Is that culture of mistrust really what we want?”
Ms Boyd added “People who can’t work because they have COVID-19 shouldn’t be left with no income, but let’s not automatically place the burden on employers, especially not small business employers. They’re just people trying their best to navigate the complex web of COVID rules and keep their workplaces safe.
A better mechanism for compensating workers would be something like the Federal Government’s Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment, which leaves employers out of it.”