With the NSW workers compensation scheme in a multi-billion dollar surplus and thousands of injured workers without income support, medical benefits or legal assistance my office hosted a Parliamentary Forum last month to put workers’ rights back on the political agenda for 2015.
We heard from expert legal and insurance professionals, union representatives and injured workers themselves. All agreed that the NSW workers compensation scheme is broken and everyone deserves better.
Currently, injured workers are forced to navigate an impossibly complex workers compensation scheme which disempowers and punishes them for being injured.
It’s an extraordinarily complex system. Workers don’t understand the work capacity decisions, why they can’t get legal assistance or why there are so many types of reviews; administrative, procedural, de novo, merits. If you add a psychological injury, disability or language difficulties to this mix, the scheme becomes near impossible for injured workers to navigate. In fact it almost looks designed to cause injured workers to lose hope and step away from the system entirely.
Whilst dealing with all of these bureaucratic challenges, too many injured workers report that their dealings with the insurance company has exacerbated their condition, and that the insurer’s primary interest was remuneration for handling the claim and not assisting injured workers.
Insurers are repeatedly identified as communicating poorly with claimants, defending claims aggressively and manipulating the use of Independent Medical Examiners (IMEs) to second guess the expert opinion of an injured workers’ treating doctor.
Even in the best circumstances, when benefits are paid on time and claims are not aggressively contested by insurers, the impact of pain and injury, loss of wages and the loss of work is debilitating for most people who are injured at work. This scheme even when it operates as it is designed to is far from generous and places enormous stress on even the most robust individuals who are forced to rely on it.
Nobody chooses to be injured at work. A workplace injury is a misfortune that can happen to any worker at any time and when it does, benefits need to be fair, the system needs to be navigable and injured workers need to be supported.
We will be releasing our key recommendations from the Parliamentary Forum for reforming the NSW workers compensation in mid-July after a period of consultation.
Matters that were squarely raised in the forum and which we will be closely reviewing for the recommendations included:
- Full and immediate restoration of all lost medical benefits for injured workers under the scheme
- Reinstating the right to legal assistance for all injured workers
- The establishment of a single. independent, one-stop-shop for workers compensation dispute resolution
- Reducing the unfair and irrational threshold for injured workers to be considered “seriously” injured
- Reshaping the scheme to focus on the prevention of workplace injuries
We hope that through these recommendations for reform we can achieve a reprieve for injured workers who deserve support and reasonable access to benefits rather than just being played as political pawns by this Government.
We would also like to thank Kim Garling from WIRO, Anthony Scarcella from the Australian Lawyers Alliance, Stephen Keyte from the Self-Insurers Association, Tim Concannan from the NSW Law Society, Emma Maiden and Shay Deguera from Unions NSW, Rita Mallia and Sherri Hayward from the CFMEU, Anne Gardiner from the PSA and of course Rowan Kernebone Injured Workers Network for their passion, expertise and participation in the forum.