Greens MP David Shoebridge helped move an amendment that protects people who get COVID-19 at work. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS

Health

NSW upper house passes coronavirus bills

2020-05-14 18:17:33

Frontline workers who keep NSW moving during the coronavirus pandemic will be better protected under workers’ compensation laws should they catch COVID-19 following the passage of emergency legislation.

Three coalition government bills addressing the coronavirus crisis passed both houses of state parliament on Wednesday after more than a day of debate and several amendments.

The legislation changes dozens of Acts, with measures including a payroll tax exemption for JobKeeper payments to stood-down workers and changes to annual and long-service leave laws.

Under the legislation, public health orders will now be able to compel people who have the virus or have been exposed to it to undergo testing or medical examination, and lease-break fees for tenants will be capped at two weeks.

An upper house amendment will also see workers’ compensation changes for frontline employees, including staff in bricks-and-mortar retail, the healthcare sector, disability and aged care facilities, schools, emergency services, restaurants, clubs and hotels.

Greens MP David Shoebridge, who moved a draft of the amendment, says it provides that if a frontline worker catches COVID-19, the infection is deemed to have happened in the course of employment.

He says workers with COVID-19 previously have had to prove work was a substantial contributing factor to them getting the virus.

“For that worker, the legal challenges in proving that are quite significant,” Mr Shoebridge told parliament on Wednesday.

“How, for example, does the nurse prove that it was contracted at work rather than on a bus journey on the way to work, or when he or she was attending the supermarket to get groceries?”

Mr Shoebridge said an employer could still prove a COVID-19 infection did not happen in the course of a worker’s employment.

He said there were already more than 100 coronavirus-related workers’ compensation claims, many of them still undetermined, according to data provided by the State Insurance Regulatory Authority.

Better Regulation Minister Kevin Anderson said the legislation also enabled COVID-19 impacted tenants to terminate their leases early where required, providing a clear break fee process through the NSW Administrative Tribunal.

Labor has claimed rental changes in the bills as a major victory, with opposition consumer protection spokeswoman Julia Finn saying they would be a welcome relief to many landlords and tenants.

One upper house amendment introduced by Labor recommends the government dip into the Property Services Compensation Fund for a rental hardship package.

“Under the Berejiklian government, the vast majority are missing out on any kind of financial assistance, whereas Labor has proposed a clear and fair plan that supports all financially-affected tenants and landlords,” Ms Finn said in a statement.

Mr Anderson acknowledged the upper house recommendation, and said the government was continuing to monitor the situation and would adapt and respond to COVID-19.

NSW parliament is next expected to sit in June.