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Return to Work Inquiry

In order to highlight the problems with the return to work system Unions NSW conducted a Return to Work Inquiry to collect real world experiences of workers to present them to the NSW Parliament's Law and Justice Committee, which conducted the first statutory review of workers compensation laws.

All of the stories that you submitted to our Return to Work Inquiry have been included in our submission to the Law and Justice Committee. Here’s a copy of our submission and all the stories (de-identified). 

We appeared before the Committee on 4 November 2016 and then rallied in Martin Place, presenting a cheque for $8 billion from injured workers to the insurance industry.

Much of the Government rhetoric to justify the workers compensation cuts has been that they encourage return to work, yet there have been few substantive improvements to return to work provisions. One of the few changes was the introduction of “return work assistance” in August 2015, which is only available to a small number of injured workers who have been injured for nearly one and a half years.

Unions NSW organised a series of events in the lead-up to the first hearing of the Law and Justice Committee. Details of the events can be found here.

Sydney event on 4 November 2016

About 200 unionists rallied on November 3 to highlight the plight of injured workers in the state. 

The day marked the beginning of the NSW parliamentary Law and Justice Committee’s review of the 2012 changes to workers' compensation legislation by the Coalition state government.

Speakers included representatives of Unions NSW and individual unions, state MPs, and workers who had presented testimony to the committee that morning.

Check out our photos of the event on Flikr.

Orange rally

Cruel reality of life on workers compensation

Central West workers speak out

The State's trade union movement held a rally in Orange on 2 November 2016 about workers compensation, ahead of parliamentary hearings into the human toll of cuts to the rights of sick and injured workers.

 The protest heard from local workers who have been injured at work and must now contend with the harsh nature of Mike Baird’s cuts to workers compensation.

Since the scheme was slashed in 2012, there has been no improvement in returning injured workers to employment, according to separate studies by both Macquarie University and a Unions NSW inquiry.

At the same time, income benefits have been reduced or cut off to four out of every ten sick and injured workers. At least 26,500 injured workers had their medical cover cut off between June 2012 and 31 December 2013, with tens of thousands more since then.

While employers enjoyed a $447 million windfall in reduced premiums over the three years to July 2015, the cost has been worn by sick and injured workers. A Unions NSW survey of injured workers in 2014 and 2015 shows the longer someone is on workers compensation, the more likely they are to have suicidal thoughts. For those in the system the longest, 25% had suicidal thoughts.

“Mike Baird’s cuts to workers compensation have hit society’s most vulnerable the hardest,” said Mark Morey, Secretary of Unions NSW.

“This Government has reached into the pocket of sick and injured workers to give an almost half billion dollar benefit to employers and insurers. It’s simply unjust.

“We hear regular accounts of people at their wit's end being harassed by insurers and suffering deep stigma and harassment from their employer. The harshness of the current workers compensation systems is crushing the spirit of those it is supposed to support, driving them to mental illness and self harm.

“The Government’s stated aim of returning sick and injured workers to employment has been an abject failure. The only people who have prospered under this system are the wealthy and powerful.

“Mike Baird ought to stop boasting about the workers comp surplus that has been built on the back of sick and injured workers and instead restore benefits to them. The test of any civilised society is how it treats those most vulnerable.”

Key facts:

  • Four in ten sick and injured workers have had their income support reduced or cut off since 2012.
  • Employers have enjoyed a $447 million cut in premiums since workers compensation was slashed in 2012.
  • The NSW workers compensation scheme operates with a $4 billion surplus, enough to comfortably restore benefits to those who have had them slashed.
  • The business model operated by insurers has a 19% profit margin.
  • Approximately one quarter of those who have been in the workers compensation system the longest report having suicidal thoughts.
  • Of the 100 injured workers who told their story to the Unions NSW Return to Work Inquiry, 44 reported suffering depression and 7 mentioned suicidal thoughts.
  • Separate studies by Macquarie University and Unions NSW have found virtually no improvement in returning sick and injured workers to employment, the stated aim of the 2012 changes.

Newcastle rally on 3 November 2016

UNION activists joined sick and injured workers at Tomago on Thursday to call for changes to the Baird Government’s 2012 workers’ compensation laws.

Here's how the Newcastle Herald reported the event.

Unions NSW announces RTW Inquiry Dates

Unions NSW has announced the dates for their Return to Work Inquiry. Details can be found here.

Third Report by Macquarie University released

The Centre for Workforce Futures, based at Macquarie University, has released their Third report titled The Impact on Injured Workers of Changes to NSW Workers' Compensation. You can download a copy here. The Report particularly focuses on the issue of return to work and found the following based on a number of return to work case studies:

  • Failure to establish return to work coordinators or contact person
  • Lack of support from employer during recovery process (one Return to Work Coordinator called herself The Terminator)
  • Belittling, harassing and bullying comments and behaviour, particularly in relation to psychological injuries.
  • Disregard of injury management plan developed by medical professionals
  • Ultimatum – return to pre-injury duties or leave
  • Abrupt withdrawal of the return to work program before it was completed.
  • Imposition of harder duties than prior to injury

Other findings include:

  • Self-insurers blurring the lines between being employer and insurer, to the detriment of injured workers
  • Insurers are interested in minimising claims which leads to delays with approval of claims and treatment, preventing or stopping injured workers getting back to work
  • Re-training offered into careers that were demeaning and tokenistic
  • Journey claims fallen by 9,500 a year since cuts came in. That’s 38,000 who had a safety net withdrawn
  • Claims for heart attack accepted has fallen substantially (over 80%). The contestability of claims made has also increased.
  • Downward trend in all claims (long claims >12 weeks and less). Over 20,000 less claims every year.
  • Return to work rates are stable since the cuts, although there is disagreement about the definition of return to work which may mask a fall in return to work rates.
  • Infringement notices issued by WorkCover have dramatically declined from 620 in 2007/8 to 55 in 2013/14 with the volume of fines reducing by nearly three quarters from $8.6million to $2.2million. Proactive workplace visits have increased. Reactive workplace visits have declined.

 

Return to Work Assistance Regulation

The government has released the first of its scheduled Regulations arising from the 2016 amendments.

The Workers Compensation Amendment (Return to Work Assistance) Regulation 2016 provides extra assistance for workers returning to work.

The $1000 assistance is for a range of items to assist the worker adjusting to the new workplace such as transport expenses and the like. It requires the injured worker to be commencing work with a new employer and being offered in writing the work for at least three months.

The up to $8000 is for vocational training and appears to duplicate an existing scheme that was greatly under utilised due to access restrictions by insurers and rehab providers. This provision provides up to $8000 dollars for workers to access vocational training if part of an injury management plan. This provision is for workers who have been injured for over 78 weeks.

Despite the government not restoring the full suite from 2012 cuts, this is another example of the benefits of the campaign by injured workers through the Injured Workers Support Network and our unions.

Unions NSW submission to the State Insurance Regulatory Authority is attached here.

The Regulation is attached here.

The Unions NSW Fact sheet is listed here.

 

Dust Diseases: Give with one hand take with the other

Despite welcoming the modest improvements to the workers compensation legislation the NSW Government has also altered the operations of the Dust Diseases Board.

Unions NSW is cautious as to the motivation around this as the scheme is able to pay 120% of its estimated liabilities and remained financially stable throughout the GFC. The independent Board has had its powers to determine individual claims removed, and also more importantly had its power to set underwriting principles for the scheme. The independent Board was already turning urgent cases around in less than two days via circular motion.

With the estimated peak incidence of asbestos related disease coming in the next decade and the Dust Diseases Board's commitment prior to being disbanded to extend the coverage of lung cancer liability, the unions can only question the motivations.

Summary of the August 2015 Workers Comp Changes

Unions NSW has welcomed the changes to the workers compensation laws announced. These changes although affecting very few injured workers are proof that injured workers and their union can get together and make the government listen.

The summary of the detail is posted here and is accurate as at August 2015.

Unions NSW welcomes government’s acknowledgement of workers comp error, but those injured still worse off

Unions NSW has welcomed the Baird Government’s acknowledgement of past error through the partial restoration of benefits to injured workers, but says more must be done to restore decency to the workers compensation scheme.

Unions NSW Secretary Mark Lennon said the restoration of longer access to medical benefits is a good step, but still leaves workers in a position where they will be cut off from medical support when there is an ongoing need. He also noted the families of those killed at work will take some comfort from a 50 per cent increase in death and funeral benefits.

However, Mr Lennon also noted significant deficiencies in the new program. 

“It is good that the government has acknowledged it got it wrong in 2012 with its devastating cuts to workers compensation,” Mr Lennon said.

“Yet while the partial reversal is welcome, it does not go far enough. The Baird Government has not restored journey claims, and this leaves at-fault NSW workers without any coverage if they are injured on the way to or from work.

“The government has also failed to acknowledge the injustice served by the work capacity process, where insurers assess their own decisions to cut workers pay, and injured workers are prohibited from gaining access to legal assistance.

“Workers working up to and beyond retirement age still will still be forced onto discounted income and medical support, which hardly encourages people to work longer. 

“Half the cost of the workers compensation scheme goes to management - so it is deeply unfair that it is injured workers will still be burdened with the lion share of the cuts. 

“We are calling on the NSW Government to support the Upper House inquiry to review the consequences of the 2012 workers compensation cuts, so more work can be done in this area to support injured workers.

“We understand business wants premiums to go down, but any falls must be based on reduced injuries and better claims management, not slashing benefits.”

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