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Callum Godde

Warning work compo premiums could be hiked further

John Pesutto doesn't expect the premier to agree to an inquiry into WorkCover reforms. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

Victorian businesses could pay the price as the opposition and Greens team up to stymie a shake-up of the state's worker compensation scheme.

The Victorian coalition on Tuesday voted to oppose controversial WorkCover legislation in its current form.

It will instead seek to refer the bill to the Economy and Infrastructure Committee for review if and when it reaches the upper house.

"This bill is half-baked," Opposition Leader John Pesutto told reporters at state parliament.

"It's not a serious effort to make WorkCover sustainable in the long term." 

The Victorian Greens also won't support the bill, which is currently before the lower house, branding proposed changes to eligibility and testing requirements "anti-worker".

"We're telling the government to go back to the drawing board," the party's industrial relations spokesman Sam Hibbins said.

Without opposition or Greens support, Labor must convince at least six of eight crossbenchers for the bill to pass the upper house.

Taxpayers have topped up the WorkCover scheme with an extra $1.2 billion to offset rising costs over the previous three financial years.

Businesses were forced to pay an average premium rate of 1.8 per cent from July 1, up from 1.27 per cent, after the government declared the scheme was broken and in need of an overhaul.

Mr Pesutto claimed premiums would keep rising under Labor's proposed reforms, despite the changes seeking to address skyrocketing claims and the government having the power to unilaterally set the rate each year.

The inquiry would provide an opportunity to delve into concerns about revised language on mental health-related claims and the creation of a Return to World Victoria authority, he suggested.

Mr Pesutto wants the inquiry to be timely, ensuring it doesn't delay the implementation of the reforms by the end of March next year.

Premier Jacinta Allan said the government would be forced to consider more changes to the scheme if the legislation didn't pass, including further premium hikes.

"This bill is about supporting workers," she said.

"Let's not have a consequence where businesses might be faced with some additional impost should this bill not go through."

Jacinta Allan
Premier Jacinta Allan says WorkCover premium hikes are an option if reforms are voted down.

WorkCover's claims liability has tripled in Victoria since 2010, mainly due to the increased cost of weekly income support.

Many workers are staying on the scheme longer with mental injury accounting for 16 per cent of new claims.

Under the legislation, workers suffering stress and burnout would no longer be able to access weekly WorkCover benefits.

They would instead be eligible for 13 weeks of provisional payments to cover medical treatment, along with access to enhanced psychosocial support services.

Workers receiving payments beyond two-and-a-half years would also have to undergo another impairment and capacity test to determine if they're still eligible.

Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Luke Hilakari said the labour movement doesn't support the changes and backed an inquiry.

"Taking more time to examine what's in that bill and the effect on workers can only be a good thing," he said.

Community and Public Sector Union Victorian branch secretary Karen Batt took particular umbrage with removal of stress and burnout claims, saying her union has dealt with two suicides arising from excessive workloads. 

"This is not a solution. This is dangerous step towards creating worse conditions in workplaces."

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