The Maritime Union of Australia has welcomed the Gillard Government’s review of the Seacare system, released today by the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten.
Seacare is the national scheme of occupational health and safety (OHS), rehabilitation and workers’ compensation arranges that apply to seafarers.
“It is about time that seafarers are covered by the same OHS standards that all Australians that work on land are covered by and, to this end, we are pleased to see that the review recommends full harmonisation with the model Work Health and Safety Act,” MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said.
“People are dying on the job in the maritime sector and it is imperative that the Australian Government pass legislation as soon as possible to raise safety standards for workers on shipping vessels.
“If this recommendation is implemented, the only workers that would lie outside the national OHS system are people working in the offshore oil and gas sector.
“There is no logical reason why people that work on land should be covered by better OHS standards than those that work on water and, on equity and moral grounds, this anomaly should be addressed immediately.
“Recommendations to improve return-to-work provisions should also be acted on as soon as possible – it’s extremely difficult for seafarers to return to work following injury and that is why the union is a strong advocate for job placement arrangements for injured seafarers.”
One of the most important reforms suggested was a strengthening of regulatory oversight of private scheme insurers. Currently the Seacare Authority has no powers to monitor the efficacy of these insurers and the MUA strongly encourages Minister Shorten to adopt these recommendations in full.
The MUA is also pleased that the review has recommended clarification of the coverage of the Seacare legislation – all too often unnecessary, costly litigation is undertaken and left many seafarers without adequate workers’ compensation entitlements.
“Proposed restrictions on employers’ ability to seek exemption from the Seacare workers’ compensation provisions are very welcome as the breadth of the existing provisions have severely disadvantaged many seafarers and driven up scheme premiums,” Mr Crumlin said.
“Unfortunately the Howard Government ignored Seacare and the need for a review and as a result, the Seacare system has fallen behind Australia’s own best practice standards.”
The report also recommends restoring the historical alignment between the Seacare and Comcare workers’ compensation schemes, which has been welcomed by the MUA as a necessary correction required.
The MUA supports the report’s recommendation that there be a further study undertaken to assess the feasibility of a single national system of safety management for the entire maritime and water transport industries. The MUA believes this should be embraced as a medium-term objective.
The MUA also noted that some of the recommendations would disadvantage seafarers. Those recommendations are contrary to the commitment Minister Shorten included in the terms of reference for the review.
“We urge that any recommendations that consider any reduction in existing benefits afforded to workers covered by the scheme by soundly rejected by the Minister,” said Crumlin.
THE HON BILL SHORTEN MP
Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation
20 May 2013
Modernising the Seacare Scheme
Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Bill Shorten today released a report on ways to improve seafarers work health and safety outcomes.
The Gillard Government commissioned the review in 2012 to ensure that the Seacare Scheme was working effectively and efficiently for Australian seafarers.
The Scheme has not been comprehensively reviewed since it was established in 1992.
“Consistent with the Gillard Government’s approach across work health and safety, we want to ensure we have an equitable and cost-effective workers’ compensation system which has an emphasis on rehabilitation and return to work.”
“The maritime industry is vital to our economy. It is important that those workers and employers covered by the Seacare Scheme have a modern, best practice scheme that reduces the risk of injury in what is an inherently dangerous industry.”
“We are committed to harmonising and modernising the Seacare Scheme to help injured workers recover quickly and return to work safely,” Minister Shorten said.
With the Government’s introduction of the national work health and safety laws, it is important to ensure the Seacare Scheme continues to provide an effective framework for rehabilitation and compensation support to injured seafarers.
“The legislation underpinning the Seacare Scheme has not kept pace with changes in harmonisation of work health and safety laws, workers’ compensation reforms or maritime industry reforms.”
“This has made the scheme complex and resulted in uncertainties in determining which vessels are covered under the Scheme and which are covered under the various state or territory schemes.”
The review conducted by Mr Robin Stewart-Crompton emphasises the complex legislative and administrative structure of the scheme and its relatively poor performance compared to similar schemes.
The report sets out 67 recommendations to improve the scheme’s coverage, governance, workers’ compensation costs and legislative inconsistencies.
A number of the recommendations seek to align the Seafarers Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992 with the changes recently proposed to the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 by Mr Peter Hanks QC.
“I want to thank Mr Stewart-Crompton for his work and everyone else who contributed to the review,” Minister Shorten said.
“I will be consulting with Seacare Scheme stakeholders on the recommendations of the Review. This will help to inform our approach to harmonising and modernising the scheme for the benefit of workers and employers.”
“While the Gillard Government has a clear plan to improve health and safety in our workplaces in the future, Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party have no plans.”
The Seacare Scheme is a national scheme for a specific section of the maritime industry. There are 8000 workers and 32 employers of seafarers within the scheme.
The report is available online at: http://deewr.gov.au/seafarers-rehabilitation-and-compensation-act-review.