Unions in New South Wales have promised a massive campaign to safeguard the rights of injured workers. The State Government is moving to control escalating workers compensation premiums. Today a delegation of injured workers protested outside Parliament, as Unions New South Wales launched an advertising campaign to prevent what it fears will be an attack on the rights of the most vulnerable.
Unions promise battle over NSW workers compensation
[popup url=’http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2012/s3502568.htm ‘]Interview transcript ABC PM [/popup]14 May 2012
MARK COLVIN: Unions in New South Wales have promised a massive campaign to safeguard the rights of injured workers. The State Government is moving to control escalating workers compensation premiums. Today a delegation of injured workers protested outside Parliament, as Unions New South Wales launched an advertising campaign to prevent what it fears will be an attack on the rights of the most vulnerable.
But the Government and industry groups say changes must be made to a system that will soon go broke.
Matt Peacock prepared this report.
(excerpt from Unions New South Wales advertisement)
FEMALE ACTOR: What is it?
MALE ACTOR: A letter from the bank. It say they’re going to take our house away.
FEMALE ACTOR: No!
MALE ACTOR: This could be you. I used to be a healthy engineer, then my leg got crushed by a metal beam. But I was at work, right? I’d be covered. Uh-uh. Barry O’Farrell’s workers compensation…
MATT PEACOCK: Unions are promising a campaign that’ll rival the Your Rights at Work battle against the Howard government to stop what they see as a move by the New South Wales Coalition Government to wind back workers compensation rights.
RITA MALLIA: We want to make sure that our members turn up for work, do their work, and they can get home safely.
MATT PEACOCK: The CFMEU’s (Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union) state president, Rita Mallia, who says this is one issue that unions care about passionately.
RITA MALLIA: We’ve had members who had to ultimately had to live in cars because their mortgage has been, their houses have been foreclosed upon. I’ve had members whose families have broken down because they can’t live on workers compensation benefits, they can’t provide for their families.
You know, it could be very serious consequences for someone being severely injured and so therefore that is why we are very passionate about protecting our members’ rights.
MATT PEACOCK: Rita Mallia rejects the suggestion that WorkCover has a $4 billion blowout because of workers compensation payouts. Rather, she says, it’s been the global financial crisis and a poor investment strategy.
That’s a point only partly conceded by the Australian Industry Group state director, Mark Goodsell.
MARK GOODSELL: Part of the problem is, is in investment profile now and into the future. But at least half of the problem is the system is just not getting people back to work as quickly as it should and as quickly as it has in the past.
MATT PEACOCK: What’s needed to avoid a massive increase in premiums, says industry, is a proper review to bring the scheme’s escalating costs back under control.
MARK GOODSELL: The unions always react strongly when workers compensation changes are mooted. They did so a decade ago when the previous Labor government reached this point and in the late ’80s when another Labor government reached this point in managing premiums.
So this is the sort of thing that comes up every 12 to 15 years because the schemes tend to deteriorate over time if you don’t keep on top of them.
MATT PEACOCK: So what’s your message to the unions?
MARK GOODSELL: Well I understand that they agree that the current situation is not sustainable and I’d be amazed if they thought that slugging employers an extra 28 per cent premiums in the, in the tough times that they’re concerned about, because of the employment effects of the two-speed economy. I’d be amazed if they thought that the solution lay in increasing premiums.
And I understand that they believe that the current structure of the scheme is not sustainable. So what we need is a broad-ranging but very rapid enquiry to make sure that the scheme is brought back into a cost-base that is sustainable without doing unreasonable damage to the support mechanisms that workers should get.
But you’ve just got to remember that what looks like a benefit for workers, in some parts of the scheme and at some points in a claim, can actually work the other way and work to their disadvantage by acting as a disincentive to them getting back to work.
RITA MALLIA: There’s certainly not an opposition from us in respect to reform but our concern is that reform usually equals cuts to workers’ benefits and the focus of the Government, it seems to us, is about reducing the compensation available to injured workers as well as access to the workers compensation system and that is what we are fundamentally opposed to.
MATT PEACOCK: A Government-appointed committee is to examine possible changes to report back next month
MARK COLVIN: Matt Peacock.
Unions escalate WorkCover cuts campaign
By Emily Bourke -Updated May 14, 2012 09:34:57
Unions are ramping up their campaign against cuts to compensation for injured workers in New South Wales.
The State Government is planning a massive overhaul of workers’ compensation entitlements in response to a multi-billion dollar blowout in WorkCover claims.
Under the proposed changes, medical benefits would be capped, while claims for injuries incurred while travelling to and from work would be banned.
Unions say the changes would force many sick and injured people back to work and drive others onto pensions and into poverty.
Forty-two-year-old Grant Casey was a parole officer before he injured his back moving a table at work in 2009.
“I’ve had five lots of surgery,” he said.
“They tried cutting away the disc and then an implant but that didn’t work and they ended up fusing it.
“I ended up having a knee reconstruction because I was utilising my knees more, you know. And I’ve had bowel problems because of the medication I’m taking and had surgery with that.”
Despite the pain Grant Casey tried to get back to work.
“There was a phone call saying it’s cancelled – there’s no light duties available. You can either come back fully fit or there is no returning to work,” he said.
“So I went back to work full-time in January 2011…I was just getting intense pain. It was just aggravating.
“I know that I just want to get back to my best and get back to work.”
The New South Wales Government says the WorkCover scheme is costing far too much and it wants to put a cap on benefits to injured workers, and that has Mr. Casey worried.
“I would have no income whatsoever now if that was introduced. I’d be in dire financial straits,” he said.
“(I’d need to) either get assistance from family or have to sell the home.”
The Government’s planned changes would also scrap compensation for injuries sustained during trips to and from work and nervous shock payouts to partners of those killed at work.
Mark Lennon is from Unions New South Wales.
“At the moment injured workers’ payments are basically at the award rate for the first 26 weeks and then they move to a statutory rate,” he said.
“The Government is proposing to reduce their payments after 13 weeks but we’re seeing proposals that, after two-and-a-half years, weekly payments would cease.
“Also after two-and-a-half years for those injured, severely injured workers and others, it appears there’ll be a cap on their medical payments.”
Mr Lennon acknowledges the $4 billion deficit in the WorkCover scheme needs to be addressed.
“That’s why we’re proposing reforms that would help people get back to work more quickly,” he said.
“Remembering of course that about half that deficit is owing to the present financial circumstances – their 10 year estimates of the liabilities of the scheme.
“Of course, should the economy pick up the deficit will also reduce.
“But there are some changes that need to be made. We admit that. What we say is that it shouldn’t be attacking workers benefits.
“As we say, I think there’s improvements a) in administration; b) in the way the insurance agents react with the scheme or interact with the scheme; and c) as we say, improving the way we can get people back to work more quickly.”
Mr Lennon warns the government’s proposed changes will force injured and sick people even further away from work.
“Ultimately what happens is that they end up moving onto other forms of benefits such as disability support pensions,” he said.
“So in a sense the issue doesn’t go away, it’s just removed from the state taxpayer to the federal taxpayer.”
The state’s Finance Minister says reform of WorkCover is a matter of the highest priority for the Government.
A parliamentary inquiry into the proposed changes begins this week and will report back next month.