The QRC’s position, outlined to the Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis Select Committee last Friday, was that workers who contract CWP at work should receive fair compensation in a timely fashion, and that coal employers should be able to provide the needed funding through the existing scheme, QRC CEO Michael Roche said.
“While QRC remains supportive of the scheme, evidence already given to the CWP Select Committee, and directly to the QRC by CWP victims, suggests some workers with CWP are having difficulties accessing timely compensation,” he said.
“It appears the scheme may need improvement to deal adequately with cases, for example, where the condition is ‘simple’ CWP – a term used to describe those with little or no impairment to work – and are likely to live long and healthy lives if removed from dusty environments.
“The concern is that these workers may have significant pay cuts as they move into different roles and their only avenue for compensation would be legal action for loss of earnings.
“We would also like to see any concerned retired worker being able to access X-rays, CT scans and reviews by respiratory specialists paid for by the scheme – and in turn by premiums paid by coal employers.”
The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy union said it was “encouraging” to see the QRC had looked at the evidence objectively and departed from its previous position towards advocating for an industry-funded solution.
“While the CFMEU welcomes the sentiment of this announcement, a mere review of the current compensation is not sufficient to address the problem,” CFMEU general secretary Andrew Vickers said.
“We must establish a fund separate to the Workers’ Compensation Scheme to deal with CWP exclusively – paid for by mining companies. Mining companies are the ones who caused the reemergence of this disease – if it ever really went away. They are the ones who should fund the solution.
“A 10c levy per tonne of coal mined is the minimum they can do to help rectify the pain the pain and suffering they have caused. This is not the responsibility of the taxpayers of Queensland – mining companies cannot be let off the hook for a deadly disease that was caused by their own negligence.
“This is a time for action on black lung. We cannot expect current victims to remain in limbo while the industry and decision-makers defer decisions to committees.”
Roche said the QRC was aware of retired workers with an acknowledged diagnosis of CWP, and who had had multiple employers throughout their career, who had faced delays in receiving support while decisions were made about apportionment of responsibility.
“The QRC and its coal members have therefore come to the view that the workers’ compensation scheme may need some revision so that it can better deal with the issues raised by CWP,” he said.
“It is vital that the proposed taskforce has representatives from all parties to achieve the best outcomes for Queensland coal workers.