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Thursday, 10 October 1985
Page: 985

Senator GILES —My question is directed to the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Public Service Matters. Has the Government yet examined the recommendations of the task force which reported on repetition strain injury in the Australian Public Service? If not, can the Minister indicate when the Government's response might be expected? Is it correct, as reported on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation this morning, that repetition strain injury victims returning to light duties are being paid reduced wages?

Senator WALSH —In regard to the last part of the question, I am advised that the Commissioner for Employees Compensation has issued an advice to departments and authorities about payments to be made to staff including those suffering from RSI who return to work for less than full daily hours for a period. The Public Service Board, for which I have some responsibility on behalf of the Prime Minister, was not involved in that action. It is understood that it resulted from representations made to the Commissioner that cases were occurring where such staff were not receiving their full entitlements under the Act.

In reply to the rest of the question, I have looked at the task force report and had some discussions with officers of both the Public Service Board and the Department of Finance. I am sorry that I cannot put a firm date on this, but I expect to lodge a submission to Cabinet before the end of this year.

One thing which I think can be considered independently of the final government judgment on this is that under the present service-wide arrangements for staffing controls people who are away from work because of RSI or any other cause are still counted as active operating staff unless they are away from work for more than three months. So there is an incentive, in a desire to maintain staffing levels, to put people off for three months and then get replacements. That is certainly not in the interests of efficient management of total Public Service staff numbers and probably not in the interests of the individuals concerned.

There is one other matter on which I wish to comment, which I think points to complexities of this question in dealing with that report and the information it revealed. In the same work designations and in the same departments, but in different cities, there are reported incidents of RSI which vary from 44 per cent to zero. Obviously such an enormous disparity in the reported incidence of the complaint is very difficult to explain and I think draws attention to the overall problem of dealing with this matter.