Five thousand seriously injured NSW workers have been cut off from weekly payments, and 20,000 workers with long-term injuries have lost coverage for medical treatment, as a direct result of the NSW Liberal Government’s cuts to the State’s workers' compensation scheme.

 

The findings are from the most comprehensive review yet of the WorkCover scheme since the changes. The review, commissioned by Unions NSW and undertaken by Macquarie University,is the second installment in a series of three reports. The review says the scheme is not meeting its fundamental goal of guaranteeing support for injured workers, and recommends a major overhaul.

The report found there has been a 24 per cent reduction in active compensation claims. At the same time, the scheme has achieved a $2.558 billion surplus – and employers’ premiumshave reduced by an average of 17% since the cuts.

Unions NSW said the report painted a disturbing picture of the state’s workers compensationscheme, which was in urgent need of major reform to restore fairness to injured workers. 

“The findings of this study strike at the heart of the true nature of the NSW Liberal Government: workers share the pain, while the employers get the rewards,” Unions NSW Secretary Mark Lennon said. 

WorkCover’s finances are healthy but injured workers are not. The scheme’s now strong financial position has come at the cost of injured workers health and wellbeing.

“Tens of thousands of people injured at work have been left on the scrap-heap by this Government. Many have been forced onto Centrelink benefits, and have had to go without medical treatment for their injuries - or have to pay for it themselves.

“The Government has no excuse not to act: this report finds that restoring benefits to injured workers is entirely affordable within the scheme.

Unions NSW will release the report at an event in Penrith today, which will be attended by the authors, experts and injured workers whose lives have been turned upside down by the changes. These include:

• Joan, Injured at work in 2011 (psychological injury resulting from a fall and injury to hip, groin and back). A work capacity decision in June last year resulted in her being cut off from weekly payments in September, despite a medical certificate which said she was only fit to work 12 hours per week. Joan is now on Centrelink benefits, and the drastic reduction in her income resulted in her being evicted from her home. She is now living with her son. It has affected my dignity, having to go to Centrelink, when I’ve never been there before. I’ve never been behind in bills before. I don’t go out anymore as I’m either in pain or I’m depressed or ashamed. I think thereneeds to be a better system because I should have returned to work in three months.”
• Brian, suffered a back injury while undertaking physical work at a retirement village in the north of Sydney in 1988. In 2001 a judge ordered the insurer to make weekly payments or a lump sum, and continue to pay for Brian’s medical treatment for the rest of his life. In 2012, following the Government’s changes, Brian’s court orders were thrown out. His marriage broke down and he is still trying to rebuild family relationships. “can’t begin to tell you how much this has affected my life. Despite my story being one of thousands across NSW, this government isn’t listening. I want this government to reinstate medical services for all injured workers.”

In June 2012 the Liberal Government made changes to the scheme that capped medical payments, stopped weekly payments for most people after 2 ½ years, removed coverage for trips to and from work, and removed the ability for workers to get legal assistance on decisions to remove them from the scheme.

The Macquarie University report found that amendments introduced two years later – in June last year - did not go far enough, only restoring some benefits to a very small group of injured workers. Less than two per cent of injured workers in the scheme are assessed as having more than 30 per cent whole person impairment - the Government’s definition of serious injury. 

The report also highlights an alarming decline in enforcement action from 2006/7 to 2013/14 - with the number of infringement notices dropping from 726 to 69, and the number of successful safety prosecutions dropping from 300 to 41. 

Unions NSW supports the recommendations of a Parliamentary Review including:

• Lowering the threshold for seriously injured;
• Restoring medical benefits for work-related injury and illness;
• Legal representation for work capacity decision (WCD) reviews and includinglocation as a consideration in WCDs;
• Separating the functions of WorkCover to remove conflicts of interest;
• Enforcing prevention and return to work legislation and regulations for employers;
• Extending the changes to all injured workers by correcting the anomaly for 64 year old workers and staying a WCD until review is complete.

Unions NSW has challenged all state election candidates to sign a pledge committing to “restoring rights for sick and injured workers”.  Representatives from all political parties have been invited to attend the launch where a new webpage revealing where each candidate stands on the issue will go live.

The report can be found at http://bit.ly/18RvgKE

Media comment: Mark Lennon 0427 231 800 
Media contact: Saoirse Connolly 0437 048169

Add your comment