An attack on the injured

Editorialmar2012July 2012

As The Lamp goes to print, the state government’s changes to workers’ compensation have passed through parliament, reducing the New South Wales scheme to the meanest in the country.

The government’s changes to the workers’ compensation scheme will disproportionately disadvantage nurses and midwives.

Nurses, midwives and assistants in nursing work in dangerous environments. The nature of the profession means that musculo-skeletal and psychological injuries are common. Recovery from these sorts of injuries takes time, often months or even years. Risk of harm is inherent in nursing environments such as mental health and corrective services.

Many of the government’s changes are disgraceful. The worst is the cap on medical and related treatment expenses. If a nurse does the right thing and returns to work as quickly as possible after an injury, but with the need for further treatment, she will not receive any payment for the cost of that treatment after a 12-month period from the date of injury, or within 12 months after weekly payments cease (whichever is the longer period). Should she require surgery a year later, directly related to the injury, the cost will no longer be covered by workers’ comp, unless there is a ‘30% whole of person impairment’.

We are talking here about injuries that have occurred in the course of a nurse conscientiously doing her job.

Many other changes are simply heartless.

Prior to this new legislation, the family of a worker killed at work was able to make a claim for nervous shock or trauma. That entitlement has been scrapped, unless the pain and shock in itself is work-related.

The changes make it very difficult to claim for heart attacks or strokes when work was a contributing factor, as was possible before.

It is much harder to prove employer negligence.

Financial hardship for injured nurses

These changes will undoubtedly lead to financial hardship for many injured nurses.

Often, nurses are the sole income earner for their families and have a number of dependents as well as financial commitments such as a mortgage.

A preliminary assessment by the NSWNA indicates that injured nurses and midwives could face a pay cut of at least 20% in the fourth month after their work injury if they have been unable to return to work.

For a fulltime experienced Registered Nurse in a public hospital that is nearly $300 per week less if they are injured for more than 13 weeks. For a fulltime Assistant in Nursing in an aged care facility, that is a pay cut of nearly $150 per week.

Workplace injuries inevitably leave psychological scars as well. Research has shown that many injured nurses suffer from anxiety about their future after an injury (see page 16). The labyrinthine workers’ comp processes they are put through often compound this.

A trauma that will undoubtedly be made worse by the government’s changes.

An artificial crisis

The government has manufactured a crisis in workers’ compensation. Really, they are masquerading their mean-spiritedness with dubious economic arguments.

This is merely the latest manoeuvre in a relentless attack on the public sector, which has been in play since the Liberal Party came to office.

Over the past year they have frozen public sector wages and cut 5000 public sector jobs.

In the recent state budget the government announced the axing of the equivalent of 10,000 public sector jobs.

They also have a proposal on the table to remove staffing arrangements from awards.

These cuts and policies are not driven by economics but by ideology.