The welcomed proposed changes to Workcover SA – in particular the ability for (seriously) injured workers to pursue a common law claim through the courts- were revealed by SA Premier Jay Weatherill and Attorney-General John Rau on 24 January…But on condition!
As Andrea Madeley’s (form www.void.org.au) commented “ I would however like to qualify the decision by the SA Labor Government to open the gate to common law claim as one that is very, very overdue and much needed in South Australia….I am just relieved to see this important step taken for those who are hurt at work because of someone else’s negligence. Is it perfect? Not by a long shot – but it’s the step we have been begging for …”
The proposed changes, which would also have to go before Parliament – after the election (and if Weatherill is re-elected of course).
“People are rewarded by being sick, not being rewarded by getting better,” he said.
(Read between the lines …and political spin!]
SA Premier announces ‘complete rewrite’ of WorkCover SA IF elected in March
A “COMPLETE rewrite” of the WorkCover scheme will save businesses $180 million a year by limiting benefits for less seriously injured workers to two years, the State Government says.
Premier Jay Weatherill and Attorney-General John Rau revealed the proposed changes today (24 Jan 2014) and have promised, if elected in March, to have the new scheme running by the middle of next year.
The policy proposes creating new criteria to judge injuries.
The most seriously injured, such as those who suffer amputations, blindness, quadriplegia or significant burns, would not be required to return to work and would receive income maintenance to retirement age and lifetime care.
Benefits for less seriously injured workers, who should be able to return to work, would be capped at two years and those workers would be the target of more early intervention and retraining.
The new scheme would also reintroduce the option for workers to exit WorkCover and pursue a common law claim through the courts, such as in situations where an employer may have been negligent.
The Government argues such changes would dramatically reduce the scheme’s unfunded liability, which is about $1.4 billion.
Businesses with the scheme currently pay a 2.75 per cent levy – the highest of all states.
The government policy document says the proposed scheme would reduce the levy to between 1.5 and 2 per cent.
“A small business with 10 employees presently paying around $12,500 annually on their WorkCover premium could expect to save approximately $5000 under this scheme,” Mr Rau said.
“For a larger business with around 200 employees, presently paying around $300,000 annually, savings could be in excess of $120,000.”
Mr Weatherill said the Government had consulted widely before releasing the proposals but conceded the union movement, which has campaigned against WorkCover changes in the past, may find some elements “challenging”.
Ahead of the Government’s announcement, Opposition Leader Steven Marshall criticised the Labor government’s record on WorkCover.
“(John Rau) the minister responsible for WorkCover told us just before Christmas that WorkCover under Labor was, and I quote, ‘buggered’,” Mr Marshall said.
“We can’t accept in South Australia the highest (WorkCover levy) rate in Australia, double the national average, the worst return to work statistics and an unfunded liability that is now well beyond a billion dollars.”
Mr Marshall said his party was consulting on its policy and would release detail before the election.
Family First MLC Robert Brokenshire labelled the announcement “too little, too late”.
“This Government has failed for 12 years on WorkCover – failed injured workers, failed businesses and failed the community,” he said.
“Twelve years ago Labor inherited an effectively fully-funded WorkCover scheme.
“Family First also expects this to be the powder keg that sees unions march against this government, because injured workers’ rights to compensation and support are being threatened today.”
ANALYSIS – BY CAMERON ENGLAND
You can also pretty much guarantee that said review, reform, or wholesale overhaul, will promise that Workcover’s unfunded liability will disappear in X number of years.
Such a claim was made to me, in the WorkCover boardroom, on January 19, 2006. At that stage, it was predicted that the employment of a new claims agent would rid the agency of its then $647 million unfunded liability by 2013. Oops.
In reality the liability has surged ominously in the other direction – not without periods of pause along the way – and at last count is in the vicinity of $1.4 billion.
It was not the first time a plan to erase the liability was announced, and was most definitely not the last.
In business, there is a saying that you should “under-promise and over-deliver”.
When you get it around the other way, as WorkCover, and the Labor Government has, you’re in trouble.
And this latest plan promises more than ever: less cost for employers, to the tune of $180 million per year, better return to work assistance for injured workers, and naturally, “the unfunded liability will virtually disappear”.
There must be a way to fix WorkCover. But it is claimed that this plan will cost less and deliver better on what it is supposed to do, which is get workers back to work and compensate those who cannot do so. You know what they say about things that sound too good to be true.
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