Compo through parliament –
Nile secures amendments
MAJOR reforms to the New South Wales workers’ compensation system have passed State Parliament’s Upper House, with crossbencher Fred Nile securing an amendment to reinstate journey claims.
The State Government will now use its numbers in the Lower House to push through the WorkCover overhaul, which caps benefits and medical expenses for injured workers, to prune a deficit of more than $4 billion.
The WorkCover changes were supported by Government and crossbench MPs in the Upper House 19 votes to 16 shortly after 2am today (Friday), Sydney media report.
It came after angry fire-fighters staged their first strike in more than a generation.
About 800 fire-fighters in Sydney, Newcastle and the Central Coast walked off the job at 1pm yesterday (Thursday), leaving fire stations unmanned and the Rural Fire Service (RFS) and police struggling to provide replacement emergency cover.
Fire-fighters had demanded they be exempted from the WorkCover overhaul along with police and RFS workers.
But their hopes were dashed when Mr Nile refused to table an amendment to the legislation.
“There are circumstances where fire-fighters would be better off as a result of changes to benefits and other features of the new scheme,” Mr Nile told the Upper House.
Instead, the Christian Democrat MP succeeded in introducing amendments to the overhaul, including reversal of a proposal to scrap claims for injuries sustained travelling to and from work.
Restricted, South Australian-styled journey claims were agreed to by the government, “where there is a real and substantial connection between the worker’s employment and the accident or incident causing the injury”, said Finance Minister Greg Pearce.
Mr Nile said tense negotiations with the government had yielded some victories on the WorkCover legislation, but not as “many victories as we would have liked”.
In question time yesterday Premier Barry O’Farrell launched a scathing attack on the fire-fighters’ union, saying the mass walkout was one of the most irresponsible actions taken by a union in the state’s history.
“The Fire Brigade Employees’ Union could have gone on strike and leave a skeleton crew, but they rejected that offer that would have provided protection for communities across Sydney, the Illawarra and the Hunter,” said Mr O’Farrell.
“If you think I’m angry, you’re right.”
The strike had immediate repercussions as a house at Sans Souci, in Sydney's south, was engulfed in flames at 1:10pm.
A passing motorist ran into the burning home and saved the lives of a woman and young boy inside before crews, who had been on their way to the protest, arrived.
Fire-fighters called the off their strike at 5pm, after threatening to continue through the night.
In Sydney, about 300 fire-fighters’ union members marched to Parliament House to join nurses and construction workers at a rally protesting against the WorkCover reforms.
About 70 fire trucks, with their horns blaring, also arrived and fire-fighters extended a ladder over Parliament House and sprayed the roof with water.
Opposition Leader John Robertson backed the fire-fighters’ strike.
“They run into burning buildings when the rest of us are running out and they do it because up until now they knew that if something unfortunate happened to them, they and their families would be protected,” said Mr Ropbertson.