The O’Farrell government will take an axe to workers compensation, slashing lump-sum payments for the injured and removing long-term recipients of weekly benefits from the NSW workers compensationscheme after a set period, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. Workplace lawyers said the changes, if delivered, would transform NSW into ”the meanest system in the country”.
Injured workers face savage compo cut
The government has flagged its intention to overhaul the $13 billion WorkCover system, which faces a deficit of up to $5 billion. An announcement is expected as early as Tuesday.
The Sun-Herald has spoken to some lawyers and union representatives who are aware of the reforms being driven by the Minister for Finance, Greg Pearce.
The changes, according to sources, would include:
ABOLISHING lump-sum payments for injured workers with ”less than 10 per cent whole-body impairment” (and therefore excluding payment for injuries such as a fused ankle or back and neck injuries not requiring surgery).
A CUT-OFF after 2½ years (or 130 weeks) for weekly payments for those considered to be partially injured.
A LIMIT of nine years for all entitlements except for people who are ”totally incapacitated”.
At present, injured workers receive 100 per cent of their ordinary pay for the first 26 weeks off work. A scaffolder without dependents receives $1100-$1500 a week for 26 weeks, for example, before dropping to the ”statutory rate” of $432 a week if they are off work for longer.
Under the new reforms, there would be a sliding scale under which the most an injured worker could collect is 90 per cent of their wage.
After the 13 weeks, that would fall to 80 per cent before reverting to the statutory rate. The Sun-Herald put the proposed changes to Mr Pearce’s office in writing and the minister declined to rule any of them out. A spokesman said: ”We are committed to improving rehabilitation outcomes, better rates of return to work and better management of the scheme.”
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”It’s the kind of stuff that will result in injured workers losing their homes. People lose the ability to repay mortgages when they are thrown back on to social security.”
He said the majority of lump-sum payments were between $6000 and $13,000. ”If they abolish lump sums for injuries less than 10 per cent, I think it falls into the category of mean and petty,” Mr McManamey said.
The secretary of Unions NSW, Mark Lennon, also a director of WorkCover, said: “This state government is preparing to abandon workers and make their lives even harder.”
In February, The Sun-Herald revealed WorkCover was lurching towards a $5 billion deficit. . Lawyers believe the hit to WorkCover is about protecting NSW’s AAA credit rating.
One recipient, parole officer Grant Casey, 42, was forced off work in 2009. He suffered a disc prolapse after moving a table at work. Mr Casey said WorkCover’s ”slow-moving bureaucracy” allowed the damage to worsen. After two months, he returned to work on light duties but since has had major back surgery and a knee reconstruction and his pain medication has triggered irreversible bowel issues.
Mr Casey says he now faces the choice of working full-time or being ”medically retired”.
He has been on workers compensation for 18 months, and under the changes being considered would face being forced out of the scheme.
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[Original source: The Sydney Morning Herald 22 April: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/injured-workers-face-savage-compo-cut-20120421-1xdq0.html]