Australia’s meanest workers’ comp scheme   

People who get injured at work deserve a compensation scheme they can count on. But the Liberal–National Coalition has given NSW the meanest workers’ compensation scheme in the country. 

In 2012, the Liberal-National Coalition government abolished journey accident insurance for workers in NSW.

Suddenly, people were dangerously vulnerable if they injured themselves travelling to or from work.

Nurses and midwives were disadvantaged more than most. An NSWNMA submission pointed out:

“Excessive workloads are a major problem for (nurses) that can result in sheer exhaustion at the completion of shifts.  In addition, working night duty often means nurses will have to wander a deserted car park or catch public transport at night when travelling to or from work. 

“Many (nurses) work in rural locations that necessitate travel on highways, which can involve high speeds, heavy carriage and are frequently poorly lit or maintained.  Rural roads are also generally more dangerous during inclement weather.”

The NSWNMA stepped in to establish a safety net for members by providing journey accident insurance as part of their membership fee.

However, the Coalition’s heartless changes extended way beyond journey accidents.

Their ‘reforms’ cut income support to workers regardless of when they were injured. Benefit payments declined 25 per cent in 
just five years, according to the Australia Institute.

This has had a profound impact on NSW workers and their families. For instance:

  • Tens of thousands of injured workers have lost medical cover.
  • Just four per cent of workers in the scheme are eligible to receive weekly payments after five years.
  • Medical procedures need to be pre-approved by an insurance clerk (rather than by the treating medical professional), causing delays and refusal of necessary treatment.
  • Payments are reduced or cut off based on how much income the insurer thinks an injured worker could earn – even if no work is available.

The cuts were not only harsh – they were unnecessary.

The government claimed the compensation system known as WorkCover was in financial crisis.

However, the government’s prediction of a $4 billion WorkCover deficit was based on temporary low yields from the scheme’s investments as a result of the Global Financial Crisis.

Unions said at the time that the scheme’s finances would soon recover in line with general economic trends.

In fact, the ‘crisis’ lasted just one year.  A 2018 study by the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work found that:

“Even as injured workers suffered the consequences of these benefit cuts, the financial position of the workers’ compensation system suddenly transformed from ‘famine to feast’: the supposedly dire deficit which justified the cutbacks disappeared entirely within one year, and by mid-2013 the fund was already back in surplus. The system’s total surplus now exceeds $4 billion.”


Where the parties stand on workers’ compensation

NSW GREENS:

  • Reinstatement of benefits lost by injured workers as a result of Coalition reforms in 2012.
  • Extending benefits to cover workers injured on a journey to or from work. 
  • Restoring injured workers’ lump-sum benefits.
  • Giving injured workers the right to have their claims heard by an independent tribunal.

NSW LABOR:

It will repeal the current workers compensation system and replace it with a system that reflects the following principles:

  • Workers compensation should be available on a no-fault basis where an injury “arises out of or in the course of employment”.
  • WorkCover must be properly resourced to carry out its functions properly, including an increased emphasis on prevention and compliance.
  • Trade unions must have the power to enforce non-compliance with workers’ compensation law together with rights of entry, inspection and other investigative powers.
  • Return to work should be elevated as a central tenant of workers’ compensation including by placing an absolute obligation on employers to provide suitable duties.

 LIBERAL–NATIONAL COALITION

The Liberal–National government remains committed to their workers’ compensation system that resulted in tens of thousands of injured workers losing medical cover and only four per cent of workers in the scheme eligible to receive weekly payments after five years. Their scheme also denies the right to compensation for workers injured on their way to or from work.