Second Reading-WORKPLACE INJURY REHABILITATION AND COMPENSATION AMENDMENT (ARBITRATION) BILL 2021

Mr FREGON (Mount Waverley) (18:24): I also rise to speak on the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Arbitration) Bill 2021 and to share my voice—along with all my colleagues definitely and hopefully those on the other side, who I do not believe are opposing this bill, which is good news—about the importance of workplace safety for all workers and also for employees who usually work in their own businesses. So this is for everybody but obviously we are talking about workers. I thank the Minister for Workplace Safety for her considerable work on this, and the Attorney-General and also our former fantastic Attorney-General, who is sitting here as well, for their considerable work.

 

Ms Hennessy interjected.

 

Mr FREGON: I will give it a go. Workplace safety is fundamental to a safe community and a thriving economy and fundamental to this government and the Labor Party that I am a proud member of. The changes in where and how we work continue to create new challenges for us all and for the safety of us at work. It was only yesterday in the house when I was speaking on the Industrial Relations Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 that I was talking about the gig economy and our delivery drivers who are now employed via devices. What we see with that is an increasing pressure on those drivers to do more and more work in shorter and shorter time spans, and of course that decreases safety. That pushes those workers to try and earn that little bit more by getting the job done quicker. Some of those employers—and I will call them employers, because that is effectively what they are—take that to levels where if you are not quite quick enough, they throw you off the system.

 

I was very happy, as I said yesterday, to see HungryPanda actually reinstate two workers who were going to take it to litigation. I am glad that was sorted, but this is thin edge of the wedge stuff and it is something that I am definitely keeping my eyes on. I know that we will continue to work for the benefit of all workers, including those in the gig economy.

 

In 2019 I was happy when our government altered the way that we record workplace fatalities on the road. On 1 July we will start to count those transport workers who unfortunately perish on our roads as workplace fatalities. I think that is an important step forward, to really understand, because the roads are a workplace. I congratulate my good friends down at the Transport Workers Union and John Berger and his team again for their good work doing that, and obviously the Premier and the whole Andrews government for understanding and doing the work to benefit all Victorians at work.

 

Injuries in the workplace can have devastating consequences for workers. In this case we are talking about the arbitration scheme that we are putting in with this bill. Arbitration is obviously a much easier way to process matters through the justice system, when possible. It is not always possible, and there are still mechanisms for taking things further, should that be required. There are limited appeal processes as well, even if you go through arbitration, if it is a rule of law matter.

 

This is a good step, because far too often people who have deep pockets take advantage of our legal system for as long as they want to—and good on them; well done—but those whose pockets do not go quite so deep find it very tough to get their justice. The more we can do to level that playing field I am all for, and this arbitration process that we are talking about today is one way of making sure that that access to justice for people is fair.

 

As a proud member of a Labor government it would be remiss of me not to go back to our legacy of Labor governments in this state. Obviously we said goodbye to former Premier John Cain only recently. In 1985, under his leadership, it was a Victorian Labor government which established the Transport Accident Commission but also WorkCare, obviously the forerunner of WorkSafe as we know it today. So they were reforming governments all the way back then. It is important for us to also realise that these changes take time to really gel themselves in the culture of our state. In 1985 you might start a reform process, but when we are sitting here, 36 years later, we have a culture in workplaces now where we know that WorkSafe is there. We know if people see things that are unsafe they are inclined to talk to their unions, their bosses. They are inclined to, if they need to, call WorkSafe and notify them of things going wrong.

 

I remember back in 1991 I did a summer in a warehouse running cables locally. It was just a summer job and we earned bit of money, but we had a lot of very large cables in this warehouse and by the end of the summer I was driving a forklift around. I did not have a forklift licence. I do not think anyone in the store had a forklift licence. Now, I would hope that that sort of thing no longer happens. I hope the statute of limitations has run out on not having a fork lift licence too, by the way, because I have just owned up to that one. But those things used to happen everywhere. You know, if you got a job as a young person, you would go there and the bosses—and they were good bosses; it was a good place to work—would say, ‘Oh yeah, you’ll be right. You’ll be fine. No worries, mate. There you go’. We have seen what happens when it is not fine. We have seen what happens when it goes wrong. Now, luckily nothing went wrong then and no-one got hurt. I think we all understand that when you set off to work in the morning and you kiss your family goodbye there is an expectation that everybody should be able to come home, and if something goes wrong in that process then it is fair and right that there be some form of compensation.

 

Workers comp has been around for ages, but the problem if we go back to 1985—I was very young—but my memories are it was just private insurance companies you were dealing with. I do not think all insurance companies are evil. I do not think they are all good. I think they are companies. They do not have a soul; they are just companies. They are there for profit and they are there to do their job, and corporate structures just have processes. Like the member for Frankston mentioned before about some of the emails going backwards and forwards, a few guys get a bit too excited that they have kept the KPIs down for the month and then people get hurt and, again as the member for Frankston said, if you do not actually know the person that you are talking about, it may just not gel that they are real people and they have got families and they are out of work. And as others have said, they want to get back to work. So that process, when an insurance company just does what it does and extends it and extends it—every day that is making one person, one family, one extended family and one community worse off.

 

So a bill like this enables a process for us to speed that up to make it fairer, and we have very, very talented mediators and arbitrators in this state. I have had conversations with some of those people around meeting rooms at the Victorian Bar, and they are very serious about alternative dispute resolution. It is a really good process, it works a lot of the time and it saves us all. It not only saves time and money for the people who in this case are injured but it also saves time and money for the other side. It will save time and money for the insurance companies because you get together and you work it out. So I think we are doing some very important work here. It continues six, seven and, I think, many more years of very important work that the Andrews Labor government has been doing, and I commend this bill to the house.