The Australian Workers’ Union has dismissed the NSW government’s push for changes to worker’s compensation as a political scare campaign that misrepresents the facts.
Burrinjuck MP Katrina Hodgkinson warned last week that local businesses could be forced to slash jobs and curtail growth in a bid to meet higher premiums. The Tribune reported the WorkCover scheme is currently under scrutiny as a parliamentary inquiry looks at ways to address a $4 billion deficit.
It proposes to cut protection for employees travelling to and from work, reduce payouts at 13 weeks instead of the current 26 weeks for totally incapacitated workers, cease medical expenses and weekly benefits at two-and-a-half years, and discontinue separate claims to compensate for pain and suffering.
Yass resident and AWU representative Robert O’Neill said if the changes proposed by the NSW government were implemented, it was the workers and their families who would lose out.
“The efforts of Ms Hodgkinson to whip up fears about forced job cuts, curtailed growth and increasing cost of everyday products wrongly assumes the NSW government has only two choices: to massively increase premiums or to strip away much needed protections for workers in NSW,” he said.
However, he said the deficit was already decreasing slowly by around $95 million each year. He said premiums paid by NSW employers had actually fallen by more than 33 per cent since 2005.
“Cost reductions could instead be achieved by improving workplace health and safety. Less injuries mean less claims, which means less costs.”
“If employees aren't angry now about these changes proposed by Ms Hodgkinson and her government, they certainly will be if they ever suffer a work-related injury or illness. Time and again I meet workers who have been injured at work; who can no longer lift up their kids, or play football with their families and friends; who can't return to the job they once loved and are struggling to retrain and re-skill; who have lost their homes because they no longer have the earning capacity they had before.
Yass doctor Ray Burn said he had several patients on his books who had suffered major injuries at work, many of whom were still going to work despite suffering pain.
“They are not bludgers who are going to fish in Yass River,” he said. “The implication is that these people are rorting the system.” But they were ordinary workers who would suffer under the proposed cuts.
For example, workers who suffered a heart attack from overwork or those who went on stress leave might not be covered under changes to the substantial contribution clause.
“They’ll say his family has a history of heart attack, or his cholesterol is seven, or he doesn’t go to the gym - because he’s overworking – so therefore [work is] not the substantial cause [of injury]”
He was concerned benefits would be cut after five years for all except the most catastrophic cases such as permanent brain damage. Cutting claims for journeys to and from work were also a worry, particularly with the state of the Barton Highway.
“The government has chosen to ignore the inefficiencies of the WorkCover system.” They spend too much money on funding “people who are there to bully doctors to certify [workers] are fit for work when they are not.”