Compo win for volunteer firies
Committee rejects 150-event criteria for eligibility, but asks for independent panel
OUR region’s yellow army has scored a major win in the battle for fair fire cancer compensation.
A proposed amendment to the Workers’ Compensation Act requiring the state’s 35,000 volunteer firefighters attend 150 events – such as fires or floods – over five years before they are eligible for compensation for dormant disease is unlikely to go ahead after the Queensland Government’s Finance and Administration Committee recommended it be dropped.
Instead, in its report to parliament the committee suggests an independent expert-based panel consider requests for compensation on a claim by claim basis.
Committee chairwoman Di Farmer said Employment and Industrial Relations Minister Curtis Pitt’s amendment was not workable.
Ms Farmer said it was not based on scientific evidence such as research showing a link between volunteers and exposure diseases.
She said rural brigades also needed to keep stronger data about the events volunteers attended.
“We’re saying that there isn’t enough science – we did not receive enough evidence to actually justify the threshold of the 150 and a significant problem is record keeping,” Ms Farmer said.
“There is a lot of work to be done to ensure that people can actually record their exposures.
“What we do say very strongly is that presumptive legislation like this must have some science behind it.”
Ms Farmer said there was no doubt volunteer firefighters needed to be compensated if they got sick during their duties.
“We’re saying they need to have something – they can’t just go without anything,” she said.
“So we’re recommending that the government set up an independent panel which will be responsible for working with the fire service to identify the nature of the exposure.”
Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland general manager Justin Choveaux said he was pleased with the report’s outcome.
“If they drop it (compensation requirements) down to parity for fire calls for everybody regardless of pay-grade and that’s non-discriminatory – that’s good,” Mr Choveaux said.
The committee found the LNP’s proposed presumptive legislation also had flaws and would need significant reworking.
The government is not bound to accept the committee’s report, but Mr Pitt has said he would consider revisiting the controversial clause.
Member for Burnett Stephen Bennett was happy about the decision.
“After continuing to push for sensible policy and funding initiatives to support our rural volunteer firefighters, I am pleased to see that finally it has been recommended that these extremely unworkable and discriminatory reforms proposed by an out-of-touch Labor Government be abolished,” Mr Bennett said.
“Labor’s proposal was nothing more than discrimination and an absolute insult to those volunteers who selflessly put themselves in harm’s way for our protection.
“It seems a small act to repay this sacrifice by ensuring fair workers compensation is in place if a firefighter suffers from a disease, including cancers, in the course of their employment.”
The NewsMail also contacted Member for Bundaberg Leanne Donaldson for comment.
SEEKING CHANGE: A proposed amendment to the Workers Compensation Act was rejected.