JBS Australia Pty Ltd (JBS) reduced a seasonal worker’s (Ms Bire) compensation payments to nil during its annual shutdown (reduction decision). The basis for the reduction decision was section 147 of the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (the Act), which provides a worker must not receive an amount more than they would have received from their employment if they were at work and the injury had not been sustained.
In the five years preceding her injury, Ms Bire had not received payment during the annual shutdown nor sought alternative employment.
JBS’ reduction decision was overturned by the Queensland Workers’ Compensation Regulator and the Industrial Relations Commission. On appeal, the Industrial Court of Queensland confirmed compensation payments continue during periods of shutdown.
In dismissing JBS’ appeal, President Justice Martin referred to the object of the relevant Part of the Act, being to provide for compensation payments during the period of incapacity. While section 147 may (depending on the circumstances) have no effect or operate to limit the amount payable, it is not to provide a means of bringing compensation payments to an end. This is in contrast to section 144A of the Act, which expressly sets out circumstances under which compensation payments stop.
- The cost of a workers’ compensation claim can increase dramatically especially where there is a prolonged period before the injured worker returns to work. An effective return to work program is critical in reducing these costs.
- Always obtain legal advice before reducing a worker’s compensation payments. A wrongful reduction will add to the costs of the claim (with legal costs and potential increase in claim costs as it may discourage or prolong the worker’s return to work) and carry risks of creating a culture of distrust amongst workers towards the business.