NT Bill Proposes Significant Changes to Return to Work Legislation

Thursday 19 March 2020 @ 10.27 a.m. | Industrial Law | Legal Research

On 19 February 2020, Natasha Fyles, Minister for Disabilities, (“the Minister”) introduced the Return to Work Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 (“the Bill”) into Northern Territory’s House of Assembly. On the same day, the Bill was referred to the Legislation Scrutiny Committee (“Committee”) for inquiry and report by 5 May 2020.

The Bill proposes extensive amendments to:

  • Return to Work Act 1986 ("the Act"); and
  • Return to Work Regulations 1986 ("the Regulations").

About the Bill

As outlined in the Bill’s Explanatory Statement (“ES”), the Bill “reverses a number of changes made to the legislation in 2015 and improves the operation of the NT workers’ compensation scheme”.

The Minister said in her speech:

“In 2015, the CLP government made a number of harsh changes to the act that hurt worker[s] … In the lead up to the 2016 Northern Territory General Election we made a commitment to reverse elements of the 2015 changes to the act.”

The proposed changes are the result of consultation with stakeholders, including unions and emergency services, with the Committee currently considering submissions received from interested stakeholders.

Proposed Amendments under the Bill

The Bill proposes extensive amendments to both pieces of legislation, with some of the proposed changes being:

  • revision to the definition of a “worker” and "labour hire workers" as defined in the Act;
  • the need to define the meaning of “worker” is necessary to meet the nationally agreed minimum benchmarks for catastrophically injured persons;
  • provision that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for first responder police officers, firefighters and ambulance officers be a deemed disease (Schedule 2 to the Regulations are proposed to be amended to include PTSD);
  • expansion of the number of diseases under the fire fighters presumptive legislation contained in the Regulation – this type of legislation was introduced on 1 July 2015 and only covered 12 cancers. This proposed amendment will expand the number of diseases to include asbestos related diseases, lung cancer, skin cancer and liver cancer;
  • removal of the cap on normal weekly earnings for payments made after 26 weeks of incapacity, currently under the Act, the cap is 250% of average weekly earnings; and
  • provision that the legislation covers injuries incurred on the way to or from work which are outlined in the Act.

Comment on the Bill

In its submission to the Committee, the United Workers Union was generally supportive of the proposed Bill and its amendments, while the Insurance Council of Australia (“ICA”) submitted “… the ICA is concerned that to date there has been very little consultation with the NT workers compensation insurers on the changes to the Scheme being introduced through the Bill …”

The NT Law Society said in its submission “… it is disappointing that the Bill does not address any of the real issues causing disputes, litigation, and burdens on the court …”

In her speech to Parliament, the Minister commented:

“… We are committed to strengthening and enhancing workers’ safety in the Territory. We will continue to support workers and are proud to be presenting this legislation today, and are committed to delivering the legislation … This bill sends a strong message that this Labor government supports Territory workers and will continue to do so.”

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Return to Work Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 [NT] - Bill and supporting information available from TimeBase LawOne Service.

Summary of proposed changes to the Northern Territory Workers Compensation Scheme – 2020 – NT WorkSafe (Accessed 20 March 2020) 

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