The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has renewed its calls for a repeal of Section 19b of the NSW Workers Compensation Act, declaring Covid claims under the Act to be “unsustainable”.
Appearing before the parliamentary inquiry into the NSW Workers Compensation Amendment Bill on Wednesday, ARA CEO Paul Zahra said the workplace presumption no longer reflects where transmission is most likely to occur.
He said the “unfounded presumption” that if a worker contracted Covid-19 they did so in the workplace, places an unfair burden on NSW retailers and the future stability of the NSW Workers Compensation scheme.
“With the recent surge in cases of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, there is now a disconnect between where cases are deemed to have originated and where transmission has occurred,” he said.
“Despite this, retailers in NSW are still processing claims on the presumption that transmission occurred in the workplace – increasing costs and complexity at a time when we need to be helping the retail community back on the path to sustained recovery,” said Mr Zahra.
Mr Zahra provided testimony highlighting that the impact on business costs extends beyond the future impact of workers compensation premiums and includes the onerous administration costs associated with initiating and managing claims for employees with Covid-19.
He said there is also an immediate cost that many of retailers are incurring as they initiate and manage claims because of this presumption.
“For example, one of our major retail members processed as many claims in the month of January 2022 as they did in the previous 12 months, with incremental administration costs now in the millions of dollars,” Mr Zahra said. “This same member initiated more than 1,600 workers compensation claims related to Covid-19 in one week in January 2022.
“It’s worth noting that only 20% of these claims proceeded after the employee was contacted, with the other 80% of employees declining the invitation to proceed with a claim because they know they contracted Covid-19 outside the workplace. So, the idea that somehow these changes will strip away workers’ rights is completely disingenuous – employees who contracted Covid-19 in the workplace will retain their rightful claim to workers compensation.”