The NSW Government’s repeal of section 19B of the Workers Compensation ACT 1987 (NSW) has been welcomed by a number of industry groups.
ClubsNSW, the Australian Hotels Association NSW, Restaurant and Catering Australia, the NSW Pharmacy Guild, the NSW Minerals Council and Tourism Accommodation Australia NSW said section 19B placed an unfair burden on businesses. The section applies a presumption that an employee diagnosed with COVID-19 contracted the virus in the course of work, even though they may have become infected in a public place or in the presence of a family member or friend.
AHA NSW CEO John Whelan said: “The workers compensation scheme exists to provide support to employees who sustain an injury or illness in the course of their employment — it’s not a universal safety net to compensate people for getting sick in the ordinary course of their lives.
“If the repeal is passed, an employee who can establish they have contracted COVID at work still has full access to a workers compensation claim. That strikes a fair balance for employees and employers.”
The presumption in NSW goes beyond that which applies in any other Australian or international jurisdiction, and industry groups are particularly concerned that there is no expiry date for section 19B.
ClubsNSW CEO Josh Landis said: “It’s impractical for businesses to prove that an employee contracted COVID-19 outside of the workplace, effectively making them liable for events to which they have no connection or fault.
“Section 19B will cause insurance premiums to skyrocket, placing undue financial pressure on businesses that are still trying to get back on their feet after being closed for an extended period.”
There are multiple tools for employees to trace their diagnosis to their workplace, including NSW Health case alerts and requirements for employers to monitor and report COVID-19 diagnoses among employees.
“All business owners support their workers when they’re sick or unable to work. However, this current arrangement will only serve to bankrupt insurers that help keep workers in the first place,” said Restaurant and Catering Australia CEO Wes Lambert.
“If this happens, we don’t see how any long-term support could ever be provided to those who need it.
“Workers’ safety and wellbeing is at the forefront of every venue operator’s mind. Reform in this space is absolutely critical to achieve that.”