Workers Compensation Changes Hurt The Most Vulnerable
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.