An amendment to the Workers Compensation Act 1987 introduced to protect workers from catching COVID-19 in their employment will be repealed by the NSW Government, but with a few conditions remaining in place.
Section 19B of the Act was introduced in May last year during the early days of the pandemic and was designed to ensure workers could file a Workers Compensation claim in the event they caught the virus during the normal course of their duties, such as hotel quarantine workers. The wording of the Act was amended to interpret that if workers contracted the virus, the presumption would be that they did so while at work.
Now, with the state opening up and hotels returning to normal duties, the Act will be rebalanced to ensure it is again fair to both employers and employees and to ensure there is no spike in insurance premiums experienced by businesses.
Employees will still be able to make a claim if they catch the virus at work, however contact tracing will determine close contacts and whether the transmission occurred during the normal course of an employee’s duties. Without the change, it was estimated employers could have been slugged an extra $950 in their annual insurance premiums.
NSW Premier, Dominic Perrottet, said the amendment is expected to save businesses over half a billion dollars in insurance premiums that will now not happen.
“Now that the economy is steadily reopening, we want businesses investing in new staff and higher wages, not inflated insurance bills,” the Premier said.
“When the NSW Government originally made the amendments, we had little information about how COVID-19 was spread and whether it was more likely to be contracted in workplaces, and we certainly didn’t have a vaccine rollout.”
Despite the change, new modelling from the Doherty Institute estimates COVID-19 claims could cost the NSW workers compensation system as much as $638 million in the coming year.
“With this presumption wound back, workers can still make claims and insurers can focus on good claims management practices,” said Minister for Finance and Small Business, Damien Tudehope.
Tourism Accommodation Australia CEO, Michael Johnson, said NSW hotels have been hit hard by COVID-induced closures and restrictions.
“These changes will restore balance and fairness, rather than hit accommodation hotels with multi-million-dollar premium increases,” Johnson said.
An amended bill to repeal Section 19B will be introduced to NSW Parliament this week.