Workers’ compensation (aka workcover) was created for two primary purposes—to provide at least partial compensation for lost income and to pay for medical treatment and rehabilitation services for workers injured or made ill on the job. This approach seems to offer a good deal—if it only worked.
Unfortunately, the workers’ compensation system is extremely dysfunctional on multiple levels. One very serious problem is the harsh financial impact the system has on injured workers’ lives.
Workcover does not work and does not compensate
Another severely injured worker – who suffered injuries to both her wrists, shoulder and back in a workplace accident – wrote to us explaining how she is falling deeper and deeper into poverty. She can’t collect workcover benefits because the insurer doesn’t believe her injuries are permanent (so they cut her off her benefits after 130 weeks); she is on the verge of selling her house. Spent about $18,000 on her credit cards, and owes a friend $4,000.
“…Because the time since they (workcover) cut me off and now, this eat up all my savings and my credit…”; “…at this point I have no income…”.
This injured worker now also suffers from major depression. She needs surgery on both her wrists and still can’t return to her former job.
Sadly, this injured worker’s situation is not uncommon.
These are injured workers who no longer qualify for workcover insurance benefits, but are unable to return to work because of their injuries.
Dumped onto the welfare system and forced to survive on a disability pension or Centrelink after they’ve exhausted all their personal financial resources and more.
“I feel like there are some criminals in the system that need to get out for crimes against injured workers” the injured worker wrote.
Like countless injured workers, she realised she didn’t know what the (workcover) system was about any more.“It’s certainly not about injured workers,” she said.
When first established, workers’ compensation legislation was framed as a trade-off: in exchange for giving up the right to sue their employers when injured on the job, injured workers would receive benefits including modest but reliable economic support.
Injured workers still have no right to sue (unless extremely injured and able to prove negligence on the part of the employer – in some states) , but the “benefits” injured workers receive have been systematically reduced through anti-worker legislative reforms.
There are three basic issues that severely undermine the economic security the workcover system promises.
- The workcover system pays “benefits” only after (very) long delays. This is an intentional “starving out” or “gas-lighting”tactic aimed at pressurising injured workers loaded with massive out-of-pocket costs and desperate for funds to accept (much) less favourable settlements or -indeed- seek other means of support.
- Equally troubling, injured workers’ legitimate claims for benefits are often flatly and out-rightly denied.
- Even when injured workers obtain benefits, these are frequently totally inadequate to meet basic living needs.
It is grossly unfair and unforgivable that the workcover system places much of the financial burden of work injuries (and illnesses) on injured workers and their families. This makes workcover authorities and their agents (insurers) all too often the accomplice, if not direct perpetrator, in pushing injured workers into crippling financial hardship and insecurity. Countless injured workers report depleting their savings, sometimes taking out superannuation funds or even declaring bankruptcy in their efforts to survive
Many injured workers (we’re talking about seriously or long term injured workers) receive on average $400 to $600 a week. This translates into about $20,000 to $30,000 a year in salary replacement, which is below the poverty level for a family of three or four. Many workers can barely survive on this. Often they suffer the additional humiliation of being dependent on loans from friends and family. And for those injured workers receiving benefits at the lower end of the scale, or none (i.e. after 130 weeks), the situation is even worse.
Those who suffer debilitating injuries and are cut off workcover after 2 years, or even 5 years causes many of these injured workers, who may be suffering substantial and permanent earning losses, nowhere to turn when the “temporary” benefits end.
There is little doubt that the current workcover system is failing injured workers. Our workers’ compensation system treats injured workers as disposable commodities, rather than as human beings entitled to dignity and equality within our society.
We urgently need to start moving towards a system that better protects injured workers’ rights. We need to focus on human rights.
We know that countless injured workers are sinking deeper into poverty every day and we are very concerned about further reductions to injured workers’ benefits. And we can’t let that happen!
Every day, workers are injured. Some will never work again.
Does that mean that their lives should be over?
[Post by WCV and WCV3]