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What is the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation Act?

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  • Written By: Dale Marshall
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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The Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act is legislation enacted in the Australian state of Queensland in 2003 that established an independent statutory body, Q-Comp, as the regulatory agency responsible for enforcing Queensland’s workers compensation program. Workers’ compensation, called “compo” in Australia, provides for regular income replacement payments to workers injured on the job for any period they’re unable to work due to the injury. In exchange for those payments, they relinquish the right to sue the employer for negligence. The Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act is one of the final major pieces of legislation in the organization of the regulatory and administrative structure of Queensland’s compo scheme.

The concept of workers’ compensation was first established in Queensland in 1886, but at that point, it was little more than a common law doctrine permitting workers injured in the workplace to sue their employers for damages. The Workers’ Compensation Act of 1905, the first legislation in a long line that led to 2003’s Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act, established the no-fault principle in the state. Although the law didn’t require employers to carry accident insurance on their employees, many chose to do that because it insulated them from worker lawsuits for negligence.

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The Workers Compensation Act of 1916 repealed the 1905 legislation and established two benchmark principles of workers compensation. The first principle was that all workers be covered by mandatory insurance purchased by their employers; the second principle was the establishment of workers compensation insurance as a government monopoly. That monopoly, the State Government Insurance Office (SGIO), was justified by the argument that it was more of a social service than a truly competitive insurance product. These principles derived from the evolution of workers compensation in Europe, although they wouldn’t be adopted as written when North American nations took up the issue of workers’ compensation later in the century.

The system established in 1916 continued through until the mid-1970s, when the administration of compo was removed from SGIO and established as the Workers’ Compensation Board within the Department of Labour. The system underwent further scrutiny and was amended in 1986, 1988, 1990, 1996 and 1999, making various changes in the way compo was administered and regulated, but not significantly changing either of the two main principles established in 1916. One of the main changes instituted by the 1996 Act was to remove the Workers’ Compensation Board from the Department of Labour and establish an independent statutory body, WorkCover Queensland, to administer the compo program. WorkCover Queensland had two main functions: the administration of commercial accident insurance in the state, which included all compo claims, and the regulation of the compo program.

Combining both the administration of compo and its regulation as two separate branches of the same entity posed conflict-of-interest problems. As a step toward separating the administrative arm from the regulatory arm of WorkCover, the two were physically separated in 2000 when the regulatory arm was relocated and renamed Q-Comp. The Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act of 2003 completed the separation and established Q-Comp as a separate independent statutory body with full responsibility for regulating the workers compensation program in Queensland.

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