Older workers hardest hit

Older workers have been among the hardest-hit by the Liberal/National government’s cuts to WorkCover.

The 2012 changes included termination of weekly payments on reaching retirement age (the age a person is eligible to receive the age pension), with medical benefits ceasing one year later.

That meant a worker could be injured one day before their 65th birthday and receive only one day of weekly payments and 12 months plus one day of medical entitlements, which would cease on their 66th birthday.

If that same worker was injured one day later, on their 65th birthday, they were entitled to weekly payments for 12 months plus a total of two years of medical entitlements, which would cease on their 67th birthday.

The Manly Daily newspaper reported the case of John Clarke, a grandfather from Narrabeen in Sydney who injured his right knee when a set of stairs collapsed underneath him while he was working full-time on March 3, 2013.

Mr Clarke claimed workers compensation for physiotherapy and surgery he received in the months following the injury.

However, Mr Clarke turned 65 on April 21, 2013, so was ineligible to receive workers compensation for wages for the 10 days needed for knee surgery in June 2013 and was forced to use his sick leave.

Mr Clarke continues to work but will require knee replacement surgery in three to five years time: he will be unable to claim compensation for this because it will occur more than 12 months after the date of injury.

Public complaints about this age-related discrimination recently shamed the government into a minor back down.

Workers injured before retiring age may now get weekly payments for up to 12 months after reaching retiring age. However the changes only apply to workers who made a claim for compensation before 1 October 2012.

Voters have compo on their minds

The Liberal/National government’s cuts to workers compensation will be on the minds of a big majority of injured workers at the state election on March 28, a survey suggests.

Unions NSW surveyed 1692 people who suffered an injury or illness at work, or while travelling to or from work. 81 per cent (1369) had made a workers compensation claim.

The survey conducted in May and June last year covered workers who were injured both before and after the 2012 changes. The changes were retrospective, meaning that all injured workers, regardless of their injury date, were impacted.

About 85 per cent of those surveyed disagreed with the changes and 83 per cent indicated it would affect the way they vote in the 2015 state election. When survey respondents were asked what they thought of the government’s changes to workers compensation, “unfair” and “wrong” were the most common descriptions given.

As a result of the 2012 changes to WorkCover, 43 per cent of injured workers who responded to the survey had had their medical payments cut off or had been told that they would be cut off soon.

About 46 per cent of injured workers said their financial situation had worsened since they were injured. For workers who had been told their medical payments would be cut off, 63 per cent said their financial situation had worsened.

Labor will scrap harsh cuts

“None of the anguish they have caused was necessary.” - Shadow Minister for Finance and Services Peter Primrose
“None of the anguish they have caused was necessary.” – Shadow Minister for Finance and Services Peter Primrose

NSW Labor has promised to scrap the 2012 changes to workers compensation if it wins the next state election in March.

The changes were “a major cost shifting exercise” from the workers compensation scheme and employers, on to injured workers, their families and Medicare, said the Shadow Minister for Finance and Services, Peter Primrose.

“There was no economic justification for the 2012 amendments, which solely targeted injured workers. None of the anguish they have caused was necessary,” he said.

Peter Primrose said Labor would conduct its own review focusing on the performance of claims and injury management by WorkCover, scheme agents, and employers.

He also promised to:

  • Restore “journey claims” to cover workers for injuries occurring on their way to and from work.
  • Give injured workers the financial assistance they need to pay their medical bills.
  • Reinstate protections for workers with total and permanent disabilities.