Restore WorkCover Say MPs
A parliamentary committee of NSW Upper House MPs has recommended lifetime medical benefits and legal representation be restored to injured workers. This should include amputees and people needing hearing aids due to industrial noise.
The move comes after the O’Farrell government slashed WorkCover benefits in 2012 to such an extent that even an amputated foot was no longer considered serious enough to qualify for lifetime benefits.
The review of the WorkCover Authority by the Standing Committee on Law and Justice – made up of three government MPs and three non-government MPs –recommended the restoration of all medical benefits lost under the government changes. The review two years after the changes was required under the legislation. It received 43 submissions and held three public hearings.
The severe cuts to WorkCover were brought in amid concerns the scheme assisting injured workers was heading for a ballooning deficit of $4 billion. The MPs found this didn’t eventuate – in fact the scheme now has a surplus of $1.3 billion. In the report the MPs say evidence from the scheme’s actuary suggests there are enough resources in the scheme to improve protection for injured workers. The government has already announced provision of hearing aids, prosthesis and home and vehicle modification will continue until retirement – but only for those injured and made a claim before 1 October 2012. The MPs say it should be for life.
“In regard to paid legal representation, following the 2012 reform process a legal practitioner acting for a worker is no longer entitled to be paid or recover any amount for costs incurred in connection with a review of a work capacity decision of an insurer,” the committee report said.
“As a consequence, there has been a decline in the number of lawyers practicing in the field of workers compensation law, leaving injured workers vulnerable and without adequate representation in what is a highly complex area of law. The committee believes that the NSW Government should consider amending the Workers Compensation Act 1987 to allow legal practitioners acting for an injured worker to be paid or recover fair and reasonable fees for the work undertaken in connection with a review of a work capacity decision of an insurer, subject to an analysis of its financial impact.”
The committee also recommended the WorkCover Independent Review Office be a separate agency to ensure the roles of regulator and nominal insurer in the scheme do not have a conflict of interest.
So-called phoenix operators that declare themselves broke in order to avoid paying liabilities to workers should be targeted far more strongly, the committee said.
The government has yet to respond to the committee report.