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Macquarie University Workers Compensation report - 2015

Since the 2012 changes to workers compensation, injured workers have been doing it tough. 

Since the 2012 changes to workers compensation, injured workers have been doing it tough. 

There has been a 24 per cent reduction in active compensation claims, with 5,000 injured workers cut off from weekly income entitlements and 20,000 long-term injured losing coverage for medical treatment.

On Friday 6 March, 2015, Unions NSW launched the latest research by Macquarie University which had been independently conducted since the changes came into play in June 2012.

The main changes introduced by the Liberal Government in June 2012 included:

  • Removal of workers compensation coverage for trips to and from work;
  • Stopping weekly payments for most injured workers after 2 ½ years or earlier;
  • Capping medical payments for injured workers; and
  • Removing the ability for workers to get legal assistance in relation to decisions to remove them from the scheme.

Since the cuts, the scheme has returned to surplus so quickly that employers have been given a 17% average reduction in their premiums, but there has been no return to fairness for injured workers.

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. 

You can read the report here.



A MACQUARIE University report has concluded WorkCover needs to be reformed to properly support injured workers, promote their recovery and help them return to work.

Launched at a Unions NSW event at the Joan in Penrith on March 6, the report indicates the 2012 changes to workers compensation have left 20,000 long-term injured workers without medical entitlements.

The report said 260 injured workers had their income entitlements cut following a work capacity decision, despite not having suitable employment.

Ray Markey and Dr Louise Thornthwaite, from the university's Centre for Workforce Futures, delivered the report.

Professor Markey said one of the alarming findings was that "terminations" were being reported as "returned to work" under the new policies, meaning people were falling through the cracks.

He said the policies forcing people off workers' compensation payments and medical treatments were a form of cost shifting.

Many people are now simply being pushed onto disability benefits or dole payments because the system isn't working.

"People are giving up and dropping out and they aren't able to get legal assistance," Professor Markey said.

"The power imbalance means injured workers are at a double disadvantage in the system."

Professor Markey said the current policies weren't protecting injured workers and helping them adequately recover and get to work, which is what the work cover system was devised for.

Rowan Kernebone, who co-ordinates the Injured Workers Support Network, broke down in tears as he described injured workers who fell through the cracks.

"This must start the campaign for a fairer workers' compensation system," he said of the report.

Mr Kernebone said the paperwork was too much for most people, with 17,000 injured workers who haven't put in a review of their circumstances. The former president of the Law Society of NSW said she's had hardened truck drivers sitting in he office in tears because they've been let down.

"One person had four operations but after 12 months was cut off from benefits," she said. "He lost his family, home and is under mighty pressure."

She pointed out that WorkCover has amassed $2 billion since the polices were enacted and that money should be spent on injured workers.



Injured workers suffer as premiums plunge: report

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.

Thousands lose workers compensation benefits with new scheme: report

More than 5000 injured workers have lost their workers' compensation benefits since the state government overhauled the scheme in 2012, a new study has found.

Macquarie University researchers led by Professor Ray Markey from the Centre for Workforce Futures have found a 24 per cent reduction in compensation claims since the scheme was amended.

Changes to the way injured workers are assessed have led to the termination of income entitlements to 5000 people. At least 260 of the workers were not employed when their benefits were cut.

Up to 20,000 workers with long-term injuries have also lost their entitlements to medical benefits as a result of the 2012 cuts.

Brian Weston of Collaroy Plateau is among injured workers who have lost their lifetime medical benefits.

Mr Weston, who injured his back while working at a retirement village in 1988, said his marriage broke down after the changes.

"I want this government to reinstate medical services for all injured workers," he said.

The Macquarie University researchers said the NSW government's changes to regulations in September 2014, which wound back some of the changes for people injured before 2012 "have not gone far enough to restore fairness and equity in the NSW workers' compensation scheme".

"A thorough rethinking of government policy in this area is required in order to achieve the fundamental objectives of guaranteeing support for injured workers and promoting their recovery and continued return to work," the researchers said. 

Mark Lennon, secretary for Unions NSW, which commissioned the university study, said it showed that WorkCover's now strong financial position had 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," he said. "Many have been forced onto Centrelink benefits and have had to go without medical treatment for their injuries.

"[T]his report finds that restoring benefits to injured workers is entirely affordable within the scheme."

In 2011, the NSW government said the changes to WorkCover were needed because it was facing a $4.1 billion deficit. This led to a reduction in entitlements for injured workers and employer premiums. The scheme returned to a surplus of $1.36 billion in December 2013.

The researchers say the removal of claims for journeys to and from work has shifted costs from the workers' compensation scheme to Medicare, Centrelink and compulsory third party motor vehicle insurance.

A spokesman for WorkCover said that while claim numbers have fallen since the 2012 reforms were introduced, it was too early to tell how much of this was a result of the reforms. "And how much is a result of an increased focus on prevention and better claims management," he said.

The spokesman said the Centre for International Economics reviewed the changes in June last year and reported a dip in claiming behaviour was unexplainable by the amendments alone.

"WorkCover will continue to work with the community and business to prevent work-related injuries," the spokesman said.

Minister for Finance and Services Dominic Perrottet said businesses faced premium rises of up to 28 per cent and more than 12,000 jobs would have been at risk without the WorkCover reforms.

 "Thanks to the 2012 reforms, the scheme is back in surplus, our return to work rate is equal to the national average, premiums have been reduced by 17 per cent and the most seriously injured workers are receiving substantially more benefits than before," he said.



Workers' comp laws under fire

It's a rare occasion when the unions and the Law Society of NSW agree on something.

But both are of the view the state government got it horribly wrong with their 2012 workers' compensation changes and both believe the balance has swung too far away from workers' rights and needs.

The McAuley Room at the Penrith Bowling and Recreation Club was filled to overflowing when the law society hosted a public forum there on February 17.

Ros Everett, immediate past law society president, said the current law means hundreds of thousands are relying on a system that "masquerades" as workers' compensation.

Steve Groves, solicitor and personal injury specialist at Lamrocks Solicitors and Attorneys in Penrith, said the changes to the law that came into effect in 2012 have lead to major cuts to benefits of those injured at work and changes to the benefits available.

Mr Groves said there were now shorter timeframes for which workers would have medical and travel costs paid and less oversight and he said it was appalling that for large portions of the process people had to navigate the system without legal representation.

Mr Groves said Debbie Stewart, of Mount Riverview, was a good example of workers' compensation failing.

On December 22, 2000, she was on her way to work at the Sydney Futures Exchange and allegedly tripped up a staircase, causing what she said was significant injury to her right knee.

Since then she has had about 12 operations on her right knee, culminating in a total replacement and has been on crutches for 14 years.

After the workers' compensation law changes, between July 2012 and October 2014, her employer's workers' compensation insurer issued seven notices declining liability for medication, secondary injuries to her spine, right ankle, both shoulders and her left knee. They also declined liability for renovations recommended by the insurers and an occupational therapist.

Ms Stewart got a grant for legal aid from the WorkCover Independent Review Office and eventually had a hearing in January this year. She said her life was made a misery by her insurer since the amendments to workers' compensation law.

Mr Groves said it was unfair that Ms Stewart's insurer had the power to decide her capacity for employment, that they were not allowed legal representation to appeal any decision and that there was no independent review tribunal such as the Workers' Compensation Commission.


Source: Penrith City Gazette

Parliamentary Report into Functions of WorkCover Authority

Through extensive submissions injured workers stories have been able to influence the parliamentary law and justice committee who unanimously recommended changes including:

  • Acknowledgement of the conflict of interest for WorkCover as regulator and nominal insurer
  • Restoration of lifetime medical benefits for hearing aids, prosthesis and home and vehicle modifications- (we call on the government to extend to the broader application to all medicals arising from work cut in 2012.)
  • A recommendation to allow exceptions for medical pre approval removing the ability for insurers to frustrate rehabilitation and return to work
  • A recommendation for the ability for injured workers to access legal practitioners for work capacity as only insurers and employers have been able to access this knowledge to date.
  • Recommendations to improve return to work and support anything that can assist workers being taken back to work.

See the full report for more details. 

10 Sep 2014

Unions NSW Safety and Injured Workers Conference 2014 will be held amidst an environment where self interest groups are manoeuvring to attack and cut workers’ safety protections and the support they get when they are injured by their work. The conference will explore these attacks and develop an approach that will put workers at the centre of future government’s policy agenda for health & safety and workers compensation.

The conference is free and targeted at health and safety representatives, injured workers, and union officials and being held at the Trades Hall Auditorium, Corner Goulburn and Sussex Streets , Sydney on Thursday 9th and Friday 10th of October 2014. The agenda and attendance form is attached.

2014 Unions NSW Annual Safety Conference Agenda

Statutory Review into Workers Compensation

The NSW Government recently conducted a statutory review into the June 2012 cuts to workers compensation. The government utilised a consultant to avoid discussion of how weight was placed on different submissions. Despite a number of injured workers describing the harrowing results on their lives since the cuts the report appears to ignore these details.


Unions NSW submission to the Statutory Review of Workers Compensation

19 June 2014

Workers Compensation Survey report 2014

Workers Compensation 2 years on:

30 May 2014

Submission on Statutory Review of Workers Compensation Amendment Act 2012

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