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Rachael Ward

No 'silver bullet' to fix ailing WorkCover scheme

Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Luke Hilakari says WorkCover reforms are a "nightmare". (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

The fight over a shake-up to Victoria's broken workers' insurance system has intensified as the scheme's own boss admits there's no silver bullet to fix it.

Some 98,000 Victorians received support through WorkCover in 2022/23 and over the last three years taxpayers have topped up the scheme with an extra $1.2 billion to offset rising costs.

Over the last financial year, 16 per cent of claims were for mental injuries and that's expected to rise five per cent every year until 2030, WorkSafe Victoria's interim chief executive Joe Calafiore told a parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday.

He said while there's no "silver bullet", a proposed reform bill, which stalled in Victoria's upper house after pushback from the coalition and Greens, would go a long way to addressing its problems.

Businesses were angered in May when the state government revealed the average price of premiums would jump 42 per cent to 1.8 per cent of payroll costs.

The union movement strongly opposes Labor's bill, with Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Luke Hilakari claiming it has been rushed through and would be a "nightmare" for workers.

The union leader said it was a "cheap cop out" that would shift costs to other already stressed services and only offer a short-term sugar hit to the state budget.

"We think this is a dog of a bill, it is a rushed mess," he told the inquiry.

"It targets some of the most vulnerable Victorians, being injured workers."

He said the changes did not align with his Labor values and took rights away from workers, while Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation representative Rachel Halse said her union was deeply concerned about the changes.

Australian Industry Group Victorian head Tim Piper called for a three-year cap on premiums and an Independent review of WorkSafe.

The employer group, he said, would have liked to contribute to the bill's development more but he was led to believe the contentious overhaul meant premiums would not rise as much in the future.

"The cap doesn't need to be zero, but it just needs to be at a level we can appreciate and accept," he said.

WorkSafe's insurance executive director Roger Arnold did not rule out rising premiums under the proposed new scheme, but conceded higher premiums would be inevitable if it continued as is.

Under the bill, workers with stress and burnout would no longer being able to access weekly benefits and would instead be eligible for provisional payments to cover medical treatment, as well as access to enhanced psychosocial support services.

Workers on the scheme for more than two and a half years would also need to undergo a fresh round of eligibility testing.

The inquiry will hand down its report in February.

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