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Within days of the NSW government passing controversial legislation severely cutting back the rights and entitlements of workers injured at work, a fork lift tipped over at Sydney markets killing the driver.

It was one more statistic for the bookkeepers at WorkCover. Their latest annual statistical bulletin records 139 deaths related to work in 2008/09 – 75 killed in the workplace, 24 from diseases as a result of employment and 40 while the person was driving to or from work.

Workplace fatalities were up 42 per cent on the previous year. Deaths among workers aged under 25 were up 25 per cent, mostly in vehicle accidents. But overall deaths in the workplace are well down on 10 and 20 years ago.

In 2008/09 more than 133,000 workplace injuries were reported to WorkCover.

The good news is that major injuries have declined steadily over the previous 10 years. Overall payouts for injured workers were well down on previous years. Claims for permanent disability were down 42 per cent on 10 years earlier.

So while the government has been insisting it cut back workers compensation as payouts are out of control, claims for workers compensation are actually on the way down.

Yet the O’Farrell government has brought in a series of cutbacks to the workers compensation scheme that will hurt some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

The new scheme, which is retrospective in that it applies to claims made before the laws were passed, caps weekly compensation payments at five years for all but the most severely injured workers. There is a time limit on the payment of medical expenses.

Fewer people will be eligible for lifetime and lump sum payments because the threshold for serious injury is increased to 30 per cent “whole person impairment.” A worker whose foot was amputated would not meet this new threshold.

A fierce fightback by firemen and lawyers managed to force some concessions. Firemen and paramedics were included at the last minute in the professions exempted from the cutbacks such as police. Some claims for injury during driving to and from work were reinstated.

Lawyers warned the changes would hurt the most vulnerable members of the community. Australian Lawyers Alliance NSW president Jnana Gumbert said the changes will throw many work accident victims into great financial difficulty and hardship.

“It is simply not true that payments to workers need to be reined in as they had gotten out of hand. The truth is that the Global Financial Crisis and poor handling of claims by insurers are the main reasons behind the financial bleeding of the system. Once lump sum damages claims were mostly replaced with weekly payments in 2002, it was inevitable that the annual cost of the scheme would eventually blow out” she said.

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Stacks/The Law Firm, Sydney

Added on 12/7/2012 9:51 AM

Hi Steve, thanks for your comment. There are some procedural rules in the IRC that make it difficult for us to offer ‘no win, no fee’ legal services for these types of employment law matters, such as limited damages and limited ability to recover costs from the other side. We’d be happy to discuss the matter with you to see if we can assist – why not give Kym Luke, one of our employment lawyers, a call on (02) 6681 6699. All the best.

Steve Mark, Bathurst

Added on 9/7/2012 12:13 PM

I have not use my real name for fear of retribution. My employer and Insurer refused to pay entitled wc payments while I took annual leave and long service leave in 2010 and 2011 due to bullying lies and harassment by my employer and insurer. After being handed a constructive dismissal letter on Jan 13th telling me due to a limited budget, they could no longer sustain my 14hrs work and there was no work forseeable in the future. I have been informed last week that I will be officially terminated this week on Fri 13th July 6 months after being told by the GM to leave the building. I am at my 4th hearing at the IRC next week and it will be harsh and unfair dismissal as the employer had this date in mind all the time. Legal Aid doesnt do industrial, NSW law society referrals refuse to help me. I only earn $532 a week with 1 dependent. I am secondary homeless and on the verge of bankruptcy. My employer reuse to pay my 8 yrs of service under Award which is 28 weeks plus 5 weeks termination notice and $2,000 to search for another job. I rang WorkCover who managed to find the non payment of WC in 2010, 2011. Payments were reimburse for 2010 but the Insurer made an "executive decision" to not pay me for 2011. I have been quoted from 1 law firm for $25,000 to defend my case at a full hearing at IRC when it would take less than 2 hrs based on the employers 1st letter on Jan 13th than "due to a limited budget, we cannot sustain your 14 hrs" that is defined as an economic circumstance and is redundancy. Pls could you help on a now win no fee case at IRC. Kindest Regards disabled discriminated widow.

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