Comcare Bill stalled in the Senate -Abetz tries to make changes through the back door
Senator Abetz who has been trying without much success to push the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation (Improving the Comcare Scheme) Amendment Bill 2015 (the Bill) through the Senate has announced a new “fit note” which has been developed for use by all general practitioners in the ACT and surrounding regions before a potential national expansion. (http://content.safetyculture.com.au/news/index.php/09/new-fit-note-help-injured-workers-get-back-work/#.VfzMtprALIU)
The “fit note” will apparently be an amended type of “Certificate of Capacity” which doctors currently complete when workers need time off for an employment related injury. There is no current requirement under the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (SRCA) for doctors to complete a prescribed form but most doctors use either the certificates that have been developed under the state based workers compensation system of the place where the worker resides or certificates of capacity that have been developed by Comcare. It seems from Abetz’s announcements that doctors will be pressured to use the so called “fit notes” which he said “will help employers understand what they need to do to support a person to return to work and good health as quickly as possible. The certificate of capacity will focus on capacity for work and encourages doctors to consider options including a graduated return to work, modified duties and reduced hours.”
It is of course really important for workers to get themselves back to work after an employment related injury. The sooner workers get back to work the less likely it is that an injury will become entrenched. However the announcement about a new type of certificate of capacity which it appears will become compulsory for use and may be rolled out nationally is of concern in the current environment where we have a Bill in parliament which contains very harsh sanctions for workers who are unable to get back to work. It seems this step is probably part of a wider campaign which seems to be pointed at either getting workers back to work or getting them off the system, regardless of whether they have the capacity to work and in some cases regardless of whether their employers are prepared to make the reasonable adjustments often required before they can go back.
The reality is that under the Bill workers face sanctions if they don’t get back to work but there is very little by way of penalties for employers who refuse to offer suitable duties to their injured workers.