Labour History

From Exploitation to Innovation: The Development of Workers’ Compensation Legislation in Queensland

Labour History (1997), 73, (1), 93–104.

Abstract

The costs of industrialisation include environmental and occupational hazards which impose injury and illness burdens on workers. It is argued that as these human costs continued to rise over time, they could no longer be ignored. Governments all over the industrialised world were forced to intervene. Colonial governments in Australia were no different from those in other countries. However, because of the diversity in local factors in each colony (and State after 1901), legislation to compensate injured workers developed in differing forms, and at different rates. Over time, compensatory rather than preventative legislation was pre-eminent. This paper traces the development of workers’ compensation legislation in the State of Queensland, including the willingness of local legislators to depart from British legislation. It will be argued that, with the exception of the 1916 Workers’ Compensation Act, workers’ compensation was limited because government was anxious not to incur unnecessary financial burdens upon capital. Thus, weak and limited legislation, with only minor and piecemeal changes, was developed so that labour was appeased and capital not unduly inconvenienced.

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Author details

Cowan, Paula

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