The Independent Education Union, which represents more than 32,000 teachers and school support staff throughout NSW and the ACT, opposes changes to the Workers Compensation Act 1987 proposed by the NSW Government late last week. For staff in schools, early learning centres and other prescribed workplaces who catch COVID-19, the change will make gaining access to compensation much harder.
Under the changes, teachers and other staff in schools and early learning centres who catch COVID-19 will no longer be presumed to have caught it at work.
Rules were introduced in 2020 that meant staff in education (and other frontline services including health, aged care, transport, hospitality and retail) who needed to make a workers’ compensation claim because of COVID-19, were presumed to have been infected in their workplace.
Section 19B, introduced in May 2020, reads: “it is presumed (unless the contrary is established) that the disease was contracted by the worker in the course of the employment”.
“There have been hundreds of closures in schools and early learning centres because of COVID-19 cases since schools re-opened in Term 4,” said IEUA NSW/ACT Acting Secretary Carol Matthews. “The government is aware of these numbers and yet wishes to keep schools and centres open. Some staff are understandably nervous about the risk to their health and the changes to workers compensation legislation will do nothing to allay their concerns.
“If staff only get 10 days of sick leave a year, as many do, greater difficulty in accessing workers compensation insurance could cause real financial hardship as well the stress of being ill. The recovery time from COVID-19 is at least a fortnight.
“Schools and early learning centres are crowded environments where social distancing is almost impossible, and young students cannot yet get vaccinated although they can still transmit the virus.
“How are school staff supposed to know how they caught the virus if their young students are asymptomatic and therefore not tested? It would be very difficult for someone employed in a school to prove how they caught the virus.”
Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey rejects the change as “harsh, heartless and unnecessary”.
The NSW Government is siding with business to keep insurance premiums low, but this will be at the expense of workers. “Any savings to government will be tiny but the impact on individual workers will be massive,” Morey said.
The IEU calls on the NSW Government to leave the legislation as it was amended in May 2020.