Seacare is a national scheme of occupational health and safety (OHS), rehabilitation and workers’ compensation arrangements which applies to defined seafaring employees and—in relation to OHS— defined third parties.
The scheme is a privately underwritten workers’ compensation scheme, with employers required to hold workers’ compensation insurance to cover their liabilities under the Seafarers Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992 (Seafarers Act). Management responsibility of claims for workers’ compensation rests with the employee’s employer. This management responsibility is often outsourced to an employer’s insurer or third party with claims management expertise. Premium income from these insurance policies does not contribute to the cost of scheme services, unlike arrangements in centrally-managed schemes.
The scheme incorporates the Seafarers Safety Net Fund (Fund) which is a ‘safety net employer’ to stand in place of an employer if a default event1 occurs. The Fund enables injured seafarers to lodge a claim even when there is no employer against which to make a claim. In such circumstances, the Fund will determine any claim and may accept liability for any eligible benefits. Where there was a workers’ compensation insurance policy covering the employee under the Seafarers Act, the Fund has the same rights as the insured employer to recover costs from that insurer.
The Fund is maintained through the collection of money from scheme employers under the Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Levy Act 1992 (Levy Act) and the Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Levy Collection Act 1992 (Levy Collection Act). The Minister determines, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, the appropriate rate of levy payable by employers before making a regulation prescribing the rate. In 2018–19, the levy rate was $25 per berth.
Further information about the scheme is available on the Seacare website.
Seacare scheme coverage
Samson v Aucote
On 22 December 2014, the Full Federal Court of Australia unanimously decided in the case of Samson Maritime Pty Ltd v Noel Aucote  FCAFC 182 (Samson v Aucote) that sections 19(2)–(4) of the Seafarers Act extend the operation of that Act beyond the limited circumstances set out in section 19(1). Based on the Federal Court’s decision, the scheme applies to any employee of a trading, financial or foreign corporation without the limitation that the ship be engaged in trade or commerce beyond the boundary of a state or within a territory.
This decision substantially shifted the understanding of workers’ compensation and work health and safety arrangements in the Australian maritime industry. Ships and employees that were historically considered to be covered by state arrangements may now be covered by the Seacare scheme.
Seacare Authority exemptions and Minister's Declarations
As a result of the Samson v Aucote decision, the Seacare Authority granted in 2014 two twelve-month exemptions by own motion from coverage by the Seafarers Act. In 2018–19, the Seacare Authority reissued these exemptions for a further period:
- multiple vessels—Australian General Register, effective from 24 March 2019; and
- multiple vessels—Domestic Commercial Vessels, effective from 21 April 2019.
In 2015, the then Minister for Jobs and Innovation also made declarations under the Occupational Health and Safety (Maritime Industry) Act 1993 (OHS(MI) Act) and the Seafarers Act that stated that certain ships were not prescribed ships for the purposes of those Acts. Both declarations were renewed in 2017 when they were due to sunset, without specifying a date for repeal.
The exemptions and declarations together ensure that these ships are not covered by the Seacare scheme and are instead covered by state legislation, as had been understood to be the case prior to the Samson v Aucote decision.
Amendments to the Seafarers Act and other legislation
The Seafarers and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016, the Seafarers Safety and Compensation Levies Bill 2016 and the Seafarers Safety and Compensation Levies Collection Bill 2016 were introduced into Parliament on 13 October 2016 as the Seafarers Bills Package. The Seafarers Bills Package sought to:
- clarify the coverage of the Seacare scheme with clear coverage rules that operate consistently across jurisdictions while maintaining similar scope
- provide modern and effective work health and safety laws by repealing the OHS(MI) Act and extending coverage of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth)
- make long overdue and necessary updates to the workers’ compensation provisions of the Seafarers Act to restore alignment with the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (SRC Act)
- transfer the functions of the Seacare Authority to the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission (SRCC) and Comcare
- enable the Chair of the SRCC to create a Seacare Advisory Group comprising of industry and union representatives to advise the SRCC and Comcare on matters relating to the administration of the Seacare scheme
- ensure administrative bodies are adequately resourced.
The Seafarers Bills Package lapsed with the proroguing of Parliament on 11 April 2019.