Injured nurses pushed toward poverty

Proposed changes to the NSW workers’ compensation scheme will only add to the physical, financial and social costs borne by injured nurses. The NSWNA has written a submission proposing changes that “fix” the scheme, without punishing workers.

“This completely ignores the fact that many workers genuinely cannot return to work due to their injury.” — Brett Holmes
“This completely ignores the fact that many workers genuinely cannot return to work due to their injury.” — Brett Holmes

The original 1926 workers’ compensation legislation called “for industry to bear the consequences of its own casualties”. Now, 86 years later, the O’Farrell Government is hell bent on shifting the costs and risks of workplace injury back on to workers.

Proposed changes to workers’ compensation, put forward in the State Government’s Workers Compensation Scheme Issues Paper, paint a dire picture for injured nurses relying on workers’ compensation for survival.

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes says the government issues paper is riddled with prejudices against injured workers.

“The underlying assumption is that injured workers are lazy or are fraudulently claiming higher workers’ compensation benefits, either through inflated lump sum or medical claims or by willingly working less than they are able to. The Association utterly rejects this line of reasoning,” he says.

“The advent of sophisticated technologies and the creation of an independent medical examiner has reduced workers’ comp fraud to miniscule levels.”

Brett says the government issues paper repeatedly suggests that reducing or taking away workers’ compensation benefits will encourage workers to return to work.

“This completely ignores the fact that many workers genuinely cannot return to work due to their injury,” he says.

Employer failure to find alternative duties

Brett says workers’ compensation costs are hugely inflated due to employers’ failure to find alternative duties for injured workers, leaving workers reliant on the scheme.

“NSW law imposes a positive obligation on employers to provide suitable work to injured workers.

“The real problem is the attitude of many employers, who view injured workers as liabilities that need to be removed from their business.

“This employer mindset can result in injured workers being dismissed, pressured to risk re-injury by returning to work too early, or pressured to seek work elsewhere.”

Brett says the consequences of failing to find suitable work for nurses returning from workers’ comp, reverberate beyond the fate of the individuals.

“It leads to highly-skilled nurses and midwifes leaving the health sector in order to find work. This clearly exacerbates the nursing shortage in this state.”

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Seven alternatives to punishing the injured

In its submission to the government the NSWNA recommended the following ways to fix current problems with workers’ compensation, without punishing injured workers:

  1. Create a financial incentive for employers to provide suitable work to injured workers. This could be in the form of a reduced premium.
  2. Impose severe penalties on employers and individuals who refuse to provide work to injured workers, where such work is available. A financial disincentive could also be imposed by way of an increased premium.
  3. Give insurers the capacity and obligation to rigorously examine whether their clients are able to provide suitable work to an injured worker.
  4. In any legal proceedings, place the onus on the employer to establish that no suitable work exists.
  5. Implement an independent review that must be undertaken prior to an employer being able to withdraw suitable work, or terminate injured workers, and in doing so shift the cost to the workers’ compensation scheme.
  6. Make it an offence for an employer to require a prospective employee to declare whether they had previously suffered a workers’ compensation injury, unless that injury would prevent him or her from performing the inherent requirements of the role.
  7. Make it an offence for an employer to inform other prospective employers that a former employee has suffered a workers’ compensation injury.

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Be there

NSWforAllParliament House Rally 13 June 2012

Unions NSW has called on NSW workers to rally outside Parliament House, Macquarie Street, Sydney, on 13 June 2012 at 12.30pm to oppose changes to the workers’ compensation scheme that disadvantage workers in NSW.

Unions NSW also have a website – Stop The Attack On Workers’ Compensation – with a wealth of information and news about the O’Farrell Government’s assault on workers’ comp. There is also a facility for you to email your local MP and let them know your feelings about what the government is doing. Visit: www.nswforall.org.au