AMMA has lodged a submission to a federal Senate inquiry into a package of proposed changes to the Seacare scheme, noting the proposed amendments do not achieve the industry’s preferred option of abolishing the scheme in favour of reverting to state/territory coverage of both workplace health and safety and workers’ compensation in the maritime sector.

Overview:

The Seacare scheme is currently comprised of two pieces of legislation – the Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992 (the Seafarers Act), which regulates workers’ compensation issues for the scheme, and the Occupational Health & Safety (Maritime Industry) Act 1993 (the OHS(MI) Act), which regulates WHS issues.

The Seafarers Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Authority (known as the Seacare Authority) currently administers the scheme. There is a current package of Bills before the federal parliament proposing various amendments to the Seacare Scheme, primarily to:

  1. Abolish the OHS(MI) Act which would see work health and safety (WHS) coverage revert to the Commonwealth Work Health & Safety Act with some modifications; and
  2. Retain the Seafarers Act for workers’ compensation purposes, which would see the body that currently oversees the Comcare self-insurance scheme, the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission (SRCC), then administer the scheme.

The package of Bills was referred to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee for inquiry and report in February 2017.

In recent years, AMMA has advocated for the abolition of the Seacare scheme, most recently through our February 2016 submission in response to the Seacare scheme consultation paper.

This is the primary policy position advocated in AMMA’s submission to the current inquiry.

Concerns with Seacare and proposed amendments:

In our submission, AMMA reiterates the key concerns of our members with the scheme, including:

  1. A continued lack of clarity around coverage;
  2. Potentially increased costs for employers as a consequence of the package of Bills as a whole and the continuation of the scheme;
  3. Increased levies that would flow from the changes; and
  4. A potential lack of maritime industry expertise in overseeing the retained scheme.

“It remains AMMA’s view that the Seacare scheme should be abolished as it is financially unsustainable, more so each day,” AMMA’s submission states.

“It is also AMMA’s view that abolishing the scheme would in no way diminish coverage and protections for maritime employees, who would be clearly covered by state and territory workers’ compensation and WHS schemes as are other employees throughout Australia.”

AMMA’s feedback on the specific provisions of the Bills includes the following:

  • WHS proposals: The proposal to repeal the OHS(MI) Act and then amend the national Commonwealth WHS Act to apply to Seacare, while an improvement, is not industry’s preferred option. Rather, we believe reverting to state and territory WHS laws following the repeal of the OHS(MI) Act will be a far simpler and clearer solution, removing the ongoing problem of determining coverage, i.e. who will be covered by the WHS Act rather than simply reverting automatically to state Acts.
  • Workers’ compensation proposals: While the proposals do have some merit, they do little to address the lack of incentives to return to work that is one of the major concerns of AMMA members with the current Seacare scheme.
  • Industrial issues: While opting out of the scheme is said to be an option for employers, in practical terms it is not due to the Seacare scheme’s support by maritime unions, and the almost 100% union coverage on vessels. Only by abolishing the scheme could maritime operators practice community-wide approaches to workers compensation and WHS without adverse industrial consequences.

“Overall, AMMA’s view is that this package of Bills is not a viable long-term solution to the problems presented by Seacare,” AMMA’s submission concludes.

AMMA’s submission on the Seafarers Safety and Compensation Bills Package will be available on our website once cleared for publication by the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee.

In the meantime, contact Lisa Matthews on (03) 6270 2256 or via [email protected] for a discussion on these issues or to request an advance copy of AMMA’s submission.