According to the NSW Law Society, Injured workers in NSW have given up the fight for compensation and are instead relying on Medicare and Centrelink for assistance.
Costs for injured workers being shifted to Centrelink and Medicare warns NSW Law Society
The NSW government has trumpeted a 15% reduction in workers’ compensation claims by small businesses and a 17.5 % reduction in insurance premiums.
Small Business Minister John Barilaro said the state government reforms to the workers’ compensation scheme had unshackled employers from “unnecessary regulatory burdens”.
But Law Society president Ros Everett said the costs associated with injured workers had been transferred from the NSW government to Australian taxpayers, who pay for health and social security services through Medicare and Centrelink.
She said the reduction in workers’ compensation claims was a direct result of the state government’s decision in 2012 to cut benefits and legal rights to injured workers.
“People can’t enforce what little rights they have under the new system,” she said. “
It is all so difficult they have given up.
“It doesn’t mean they haven’t been injured. It just means it is tougher for people to receive compensation.”
Ms Everett said the NSW government had made it difficult for injured workers to obtain any legal advice on workers’ compensation claims.
Lawyers are no longer allowed to charge clients for help in appealing an unfair assessment of their ability to return to work. Injured workers are required to negotiate the system on their own.
“It’s a highly technical and difficult area of law, even for a lawyer,” she said.
“There are bars and time limits that mean if you miss one, you’ve had it.
“People just give up and go away. They are not returning to work. They are relying on Medicare and Centrelink.”
Ms Everett said a claim by one badly injured client who needs surgery was denied because her boss didn’t record the injury.
She lodged an appeal, which should take 30 days to process, but after five months, was still waiting for a response.
“The scheme agents are out of control,” Ms Everett said. “They don’t even respond to me.”
The state government says the return to work rate of people injured on the job has improved from 82% to 87% as a result of its changes.
Mr Barilaro and Finance Minister Dominic Perrottet said red tape had been cut by half and $10.4 million had been saved in administration costs.
“Disputes and appeals have been dramatically reduced as reforms have made premiums easier to understand and the customer experience improved,” they said.
But Ms Everett said red tape had increased because lawyers were required to seek written approval for every step they took in litigation, including any request for a medical report.
WorkCover NSW’s assessment of the capacity of injured workers to return to work can no longer be challenged before an independent arbitrator.
“It is an in-house review by the insurance company. The Workers Compensation Commission is prohibited from hearing these cases,” she said.
Mr Perrottet said since 2012, the NSW government had taken several measures to make the scheme fair and sustainable, including increasing benefits for the most seriously injured workers.
“As a result of these actions, the workers’ compensation scheme has returned to surplus, is better able to assist workers and the premium burden on business has been slashed by 17.5 per cent for average,” he said.
WorkCover NSW Independent Review Officer (WIRO), Kim Garling, disputed Ms Everett’s claim that red tape had increased because lawyers were required to seek written approval for steps they took in litigation.
“This appears to be a reference to the funding provided by this office to assist injured workers bring their claims against insurers. There is no such requirement,” he said.
Mr Garling said it was incorrect for Ms Everett to say that WorkCover NSW’s assessment of the capacity of injured workers to return to work can no longer be challenged before an independent arbitrator.
“It implies quite clearly that in undertaking the review of a work capacity decision of an insurer I am not independent,” he said.