Australia’s largest retail representative organisation, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA), has renewed its calls for a repeal of Section 19b of the NSW Workers Compensation Act and – with it – the unfounded presumption that if a worker contracted Covid-19 they did so in the workplace.
Appearing before the parliamentary inquiry into the NSW Workers Compensation Amendment Bill on Wednesday, 02 February 2022, ARA CEO Paul Zahra said the workplace presumption no longer reflects where transmission is most likely to occur and places an unfair burden on NSW retailers and the future stability of the NSW Workers Compensation scheme.
“When the Section 19b provision came into effect in May 2020, government-mandated lockdowns meant that if someone contracted Covid-19 it was more likely that they would do so at work. 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.
“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 also 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.
“We are concerned that if Section 19b is not repealed, we will see an increase in workers compensation claims into the future. However, there is also an immediate cost that many of our members 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. 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.
“We thank the NSW government for their leadership in seeking to have this presumption repealed. With our national members operating extensive store networks through NSW, and around 1800 small and medium sized members across the state, this is a critical issue for the ARA. It is also a critical issue for our sector, given that NSW drives more than 30% of Australia’s retail sales. What happens in NSW impacts the profitability of national retailers, and the sustained recovery of the sector nationally,” said Mr Zahra.
ARA Media Team
T 0419 270 863
About us: The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) is the oldest, largest and most diverse national retail body, representing a $360bn sector which employs 1.3 million Australians and is the largest private sector employer in the country. As Australia’s peak retail body, representing more than 100,000 retail shop fronts and online stores, the ARA informs, advocates, educates, protects and unifies our independent, national and international retail community. To learn more about ARA’s exclusive member benefits and more, visit retail.org.au