June 22, 2012 – 8:54
Major reforms to the NSW 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.
It came after angry firefighters staged their first strike in more than a generation yesterday.
About 800 firefighters inSydney,Newcastleand theCentralCoastwalked off the job at 1pm on Thursday, leaving fire stations unmanned and the Rural Fire Service and police struggling to provide replacement emergency cover.
Firefighters had demanded they be exempted from the WorkCover overhaul along with police and Rural Fire Service workers.
But their hopes were dashed when Mr Nile refused to table an amendment to the legislation.
“There are circumstances where firefighters 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 a number of 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”, Finance Minister Greg Pearce said.
Mr Nile said tense negotiations with government had yielded some victories on the WorkCover legislation, but not as “many victories as we would have liked”.
In question time on Thursday Premier Barry O’Farrell launched a scathing attack on the firefighters’ 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’Unioncould 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,” he said.
“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.
Firefighters called the off their strike at 5pm, after threatening to continue through the night.
In Sydney, about 300 firefighters’ union members marched to Parliament House to join nurses and construction workers at a rally protesting the WorkCover reforms.
About 70 fire trucks, with their horns blaring, also arrived and firefighters extended a ladder over Parliament House and sprayed the roof with water.
Opposition Leader John Robertson backed the firefighters’ 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,” he said.
Premier Barry O’Farrell called his reforms “tough but necessary”.
He said the cost of running WorkCover had ballooned because of a lack of attention under previous governments.
“No minister since John Della Bosca had paid attention to WorkCover,” Mr O’Farrell told Macquarie Radio today.
“We’re also trying to drive down the cost of administering the scheme because we’re concerned about that.”
Article source: www.smh.com.au