NSW workers' comp premiums have plummeted by an average of 17 per cent over the last two years, but injured workers have paid for these cuts, with thousands going without medical treatment or being forced onto Centrelink benefits, according to a union-commissioned Macquarie University study.

The report, to be released later today, found that about 5000 permanently injured workers had lost their weekly payments, while 20,000 workers with long-term injuries had lost coverage for medical treatment, as a direct result of the NSW Government's 2012 overhaul of the WorkCover scheme, Unions NSW secretary Mark Lennon said.

The report showed the scheme no longer met its fundamental goal of guaranteeing support for injured workers, Lennon said. 

It also found the scheme had achieved a $2.558 billion surplus.

"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," Lennon said.

"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.

"This report finds that restoring benefits to injured workers is entirely affordable within the scheme." 

OHS Alert has reported extensively on the transformation of NSW's workers' comp scheme, which could be traced back to a 2011 PricewaterhouseCoopers report that warned that NSW would end up with an unsustainable "lump sum culture" unless access to work-related permanent impairment payments was restricted through legislative change. 

The State Government then warned that premiums would go through the roof unless the scheme was overhauled. 

These claims were hotly contested at a subsequent inquiry into the scheme, but the Government proceeded to cap weekly and medical benefits and all but eliminate coverage for journey injuries.

Some of our articles on these issues include:

According to Lennon, the Macquarie University study found that 2014 amendments – which restored, until retirement age, benefits to workers with a whole person impairment of more than 30 per cent whose claims pre-dated October 2012 – didn't go far enough to protect injured workers.

Fewer than two per cent of injured workers exceeded this threshold, he said.

He also said the study raised alarming questions about WorkCover's current approach to enforcement, with the number of infringement notices it issued dropping from 726 in 2006-07 to 69 in 2013-14, and the number of its successful prosecutions dropping from 300 to 41.

Unions NSW said it supported a September 2014 parliamentary review into the scheme, which recommended restoring benefits, lowering the serious-injury threshold and ensuring workers had access to legal representation when contesting work capacity decisions.

 

Originally Published by ohsalert.com.au and has been reproduced with permission.

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