The NSW government has failed to act on an independent report raising serious concerns about the plight of injured workers following its controversial changes to WorkCover NSW laws for almost 18 months.
NSW government fails to fix workcover NSW scheme
NSW government fails to fix concerns over injured workers scheme after 18 months
June 26, 2015 | Sean Nicholls
Sydney Morning Herald State Political Editor
The NSW government has failed to act on an independent report raising serious concerns about the plight of injured workers following its controversial changes to WorkCover laws for almost 18 months.
The report’s author, WorkCover Independent Review Officer Kim Garling, says a key aspect of the operation of the workers’ compensation scheme is unfair to injured workers and “needs to be fixed”.
The 2012-13 annual report of the WorkCover Independent Review Office was handed to then finance minister Andrew Constance in November 2013.
It found injured workers were being put at a “double disadvantage” thanks to changes introduced by the O’Farrell government in 2012.
Under the controversial overhaul of the WorkCover system, each insurer makes a work capacity decision about the injured worker which is used to decide whether or not to pay them weekly compensation.
The government removed the existing right of workers to have their legal costs paid by insurers on a regulated fee basis when disputes arise.
It also prohibited lawyers from charging for any advice in such matters, meaning injured workers needed to rely on firms willing to do pro bono work.
The change sought to create a level playing field, given that insurers are also prohibited from obtaining legal advice.
But Mr Garling’s report said insurers “are utilising the services of lawyers” regardless, thanks to a legal loophole.
“That has therefore left the injured worker at a double disadvantage and contrary to the intention of the government that the system be efficient, fair and equitable,” the report states.
The WorkCover Independent Review Office 2013-14 annual report, tabled in Parliament on Thursday, notes the situation is ongoing and recommends amending the law to allow injured workers to pay lawyers to review work capacity decisions.
Mr Garling told Fairfax Media the loophole “places the worker in a double disadvantage because they don’t understand the process of the law and are battling against someone who’s thoroughly qualified at what they do”.
“Access to lawyers is very important, particularly for injured workers, because many of them don’t have the same educational standard and language understanding as many other workers do,” he said.
Mr Garling said it was “extraordinary to exclude lawyers from that process and not only to exclude them but say they can’t be paid. I think that was not appreciated at the time and needs to be fixed.”
A spokesman for Finance Minister Dominic Perrottet noted the changes aimed to address a $4.1 billion deficit in the scheme.
He said the most seriously injured workers were now “receiving more benefits, premiums have been reduced by 17.5 per cent, the return to work rate has improved and the scheme is back in surplus”.
In a statement, WorkCover said work “now under way” to address matters raised in the 2014 annual report, “some of which have already been resolved”.
[Source: http://www.theage.com.au/nsw/nsw-government-fails-to-fix-concerns-over-injured-workers-scheme-after-18-months-20150626-ghyf7o.html ]