By Chris Latham
On May 13, chanting, "What do we want? — Workers' comp!", more than 2500 workers marched on the Western Australian parliament. The rally was organised by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Electrical Trade Union (ETU) in response to new workers' compensation legislation introduced into parliament on May 5.
CFMEU state secretary Kevin Reynolds told the rally the amendments do not go far enough and will leave "WA having the worst workers comp system in Australia".
The new legislation will restrict injured workers' access to common law, as secondary impairments, including psychological ones, will no longer count for the threshold that allows such legal action. The rally demanded: no maximum in payments; reintroduction of journey cover; and no threshold for access to common law damages.
MUA branch secretary Chris Cain told the rally that the legislation "was nothing more than Liberal legislation".
Reynolds threatened ongoing action unless the government "becomes a more sympathetic government to the working class". He welcomed the support for the rally from the MUA, the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) and rank-and-file members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, but attacked union leaders, including UnionsWA secretary Stephanie Mayman, who were not supporting the rally or the campaign for a better workers' compensation system.
Rally speakers included the partners of killed construction workers, ETU organiser Peter Carter, workers' compensation lawyer and activist Paul O'Halloran, CFMEU assistant secretary Joe McDonald and Greens MLC Jim Scott, who promised that the Greens would try to amend the legislation in the interests of working people.
State industrial relations minister John Kobelke defended the legislation, telling the May 14 West Australian that it would "provide $130 million in extra benefits to injured workers". Socialist Alliance senate candidate and MUA activist Ian Jamieson told Green Left Weekly that the figure only looked at statutory benefits and was "a pittance" in comparion to the savings of insurance companies from tightening common law benefits.
Mayman told the West Australian, "attempts to overturn the reforms could leave us with the dreadful system we've got now and no-one wants that".
Jamison argued that this misses the point, because a real fight by the unions could force a backdown. At the moment, he said, the ALP was mostly held back by its "commitments to protecting insurance company profits, which already stand at $270 million a year".
From Green Left Weekly #582
Wednesday, May 19, 2004
By Chris Latham