ALMOST $15 million of taxpayers’ money was spent last year by WorkSafe in spying on Victorians who say they were injured at work or on the roads.
WorkSafe and the Transport Accident Commission blame the burgeoning bill on the growth in legal claims.
Figures obtained by Freedom of Information show that in 2010-11, WorkSafe spent $13.7 million watching 6675 people claiming benefits. The cost was more than $1.2 million above the previous year’s bill for watching 6217 people, but it prosecuted just 18 cases of fraud.
In 2010-11 the TAC spent more than $809,000 on surveillance in 501 claims, about a 70 per cent rise in spying, and spending, on 2009-10.
It says that in the past five years there has been a 90 per cent surge in damages lawsuits lodged by motorists.
WorkSafe said it had seen a 20 per cent rise in common law claims in several years.
Slater and Gordon lawyer Craig Sidebottom said the WorkSafe surveillance bill was “extremely alarming”.“It’s extraordinary that they could waste $14 million a year on snooping and spying. I think WorkSafe are probably spying on more people in Victoria than ASIO,” he said.
He said surveillance seemed to be almost “a default position” and WorkSafe should exercise more discretion, so millions weren’t spent spying on the innocent.
“We accept that people doing the wrong thing should be caught, but WorkSafe doesn’t seem to need a . . . reason to spy on you,” he said.“They release the hounds with little thought or restraint. Severely injured workers are being made to feel like criminals because they simply seek to pursue their proper entitlements.”
But WorkSafe deputy chief executive Ian Forsyth said surveillance was mostly about determining the extent of injury, not fraud. Often, it led to a claim being reduced or dropped, and helped keep premiums down.
“It helps us make sure we are providing the benefits to which an injured worker is entitled – no more, but importantly no less,” he said.
About 90,000 injured workers a year depend on WorkSafe for benefits. Mr Forsyth said WorkSafe paid out about $1.4 billion a year and increases could affect the scheme’s sustainability.
Australian Industry Group Victorian director Tim Piper said investigating claims gave employers confidence.
“(It makes) sure people are honest,” he said.
TAC chief executive Janet Dore said surveillance could save the TAC millions of dollars in the long term.
“Unfortunately some people – and it’s very much the minority – don’t do quite the right thing by us,” she said.
She said there were strict guidelines for surveillance.
But Slater and Gordon lawyer Janine Gregory said a TAC claim would rarely be withdrawn over surveillance.
“By and large it’s a waste of taxpayer money,” she said.
From: Herald Sun
October 03, 2011
Slater and Gordon, in a media release, further stated that the surveillance of injured workers is out of control
Government figures revealing that nearly $14 million has been spent on the surveillance of injured workers in the past year has confirmed that the practice is out of control, according to Slater & Gordon lawyers.
Slater & Gordon workers compensation lawyer Craig Sidebottom said the large amount of money being spenton surveillance, as revealed by the Herald Sun today, was “extremely alarming”.
Mr Sidebottom said the funds would be better spent on preventing workplace injuries and helping the injured get back to work than “spying on innocent citizens”.
“I think Victorians would be outraged to learn that the Victorian WorkCover Authority is wasting $14m a year on snooping and spying on injured people,” Mr Sidebottom said.“Imagine being an injured worker, knowing that people are in cars are hiding around corners, filming you andyour family, for days or weeks on end. They could be watching you when you are doing the shopping, on yourway to see the doctor or even spending time with your kids. “
He said many of the firm’s WorkCover clients had been subjected to “unwarranted and unnecessary” surveillance.
“We are finding that all too often, when someone has lodged a common law claim, they are being followed around and subjected to surveillance. It is a gross invasion of privacy.”
“Our clients are being investigated at a time when they are trying to recover from a major injury and instead of being focussed on that recovery, they are dealing with being filmed and watched while carrying out their ordinary business.”
Mr Sidebottom said the level of funding spent on surveillance needed to be reviewed and capped.
“It’s deeply concerning that the authority does not appear to be showing any restraint in this area. We accept that people doing the wrong thing should be caught, but the VWA seems to be doing it with little thought or restraint.”
“Millions are being spent putting good, honest people under surveillance. We question the level of time and the large amounts of money being spent, for what is a very limited return.”“It is time for the VWA to rein themselves in – investigators should only be engaged by the VWA when there is a reason to suspect a fraud being committed, not just someone is lodging a compensation claim.”
“The VWA needs to redirect its funds to preventing workplace injuries and helping injured workers get back to work.”
It appears to me though that the excessive surveillance used by workcover is NOT to expose or discover fraudulent claimants, but to use the selective video surveillance material (that 10 second gotcha shot) to mitigate their losses – that is: to heavily reduce the compensation payout to the genuinely injured person. You may want to read our article/post about the tactics used by private investigators to get those famous 10 second shots, to get a better understanding about the abuse of surveillance!
Also of interest: an interesting court case about using video surveillance