The meanest workers’ comp in Australia

The conditions were atrocious — a cold day with driving rain — yet more than 9000 people across NSW rallied against the state government’s attack on workers’ compensation.

Union RallyA strong contingent of nurses rallied outside NSW Parliament House on June 13 with more than 7000 other workers. In Newcastle, 2000 turned out and in numerous other centres across NSW rallies were held to protest the O’Farrell Government’s attack on workers’ compensation.

The rallies were held on the eve of the government introducing into parliament a bill that would:

  • reduce benefits after 13 weeks
  • stop benefits after 2 1/2 years for workers with partial capacity
  • stop medical payments after 1 year from the date a claim is made or weekly payments cease, whichever is larger
  • remove journey claims
  • limit access to lump sum payments.

Union RallyAt the rally in Macquarie Street, Sydney, Unions NSW Secretary Mark Lennon blasted the government for its narrow approach to reform.

“When it comes to workers’ comp and reforming the system, the O’Farrell Government has one agenda – a free kick for employers. Forget better health outcomes for workers. Forget compelling employers to provide better return-to-work programs. Forget making insurance companies earn their money by better claims management. No, just once again, attack the worker,” he said.

“Where are the broader proposals that put additional responsibilities for improving the scheme on employers, insurers and WorkCover?”

Union RallyHe contested the government’s assertion that there is a crisis within the workers’ compensation scheme and said the latest attack was consistent with an anti-worker agenda that the government had been driving since elected.

“In the past 15 months this government has announced privatisations, cuts to entitlements, job cuts and the removal of workplace rights. And more in yesterday’s budget: 10,000 more jobs cut and another $1.2 billion cut to entitlements.”

Catastrophic for nurses

Several workers, who will be badly prejudiced by the changes, addressed the rally, including RN Emily Orchard.

“I injured my back at work while assisting in the resuscitation of a patient. It started a journey to hell and back. Life has been incredibly difficult. Every day I have pain. At every step the insurer has resisted paying for treatment,” she said.

Union RallyEmily said the proposed changes to workers’ comp would see all support withdrawn after two-and-a-half years.

“This is a frightening prospect. Will I end up on a disability pension or the financial burden placed on my family? That’s not fair when I was injured doing my job.

“The planned reform on workers’ compensation is going to be catastrophic for workers.”

Union RallyNSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes says the changes will bite particularly hard for nurses.

“Hundreds of nurses and midwives, in public and private hospitals and aged care facilities, suffer serious injuries each year. These are not always high-profile injuries, but the ‘sprain and strain’ injuries nurses and midwives often suffer can cost them thousands in lost income under the current system.

“The O’Farrell Government plan will make those losses even worse, because it is not uncommon for these types of injuries, especially if they involve the back, to go on for months.

Union Rally“A preliminary assessment of the O’Farrell Government plan, by the NSWNA, indicates that injured nurses and midwives could face, at least, a 20% pay cut in the fourth month after their work injury. For a fulltime, experienced Registered Nurse in a public hospital, that is a pay cut of nearly $300 per week.

“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.”