A joint investigation by Nine newspapers and the ABC has exposed that reform of the NSW workers’ compensation scheme is urgently needed and that any efforts to overhaul the scheme must ensure no injured worker is left worse off, according to Maurice Blackburn Lawyers.
Maurice Blackburn national head of Work Injuries Liberty Sanger said Monday night’s 4 Corners program had revealed shocking treatment of injured workers, especially in New South Wales, where there are also devastating revelations about the governance of the scheme.
“For years administrators of the NSW scheme have been motivated by cutting costs and finding savings that come at the expense of rights for injured workers and good scheme design,” Ms Sanger said.
“The NSW scheme appears to have not only been appallingly administered, it has been poorly designed, leading to terrible and unfair outcomes for injured workers.
“Too often the injured worker bears the brunt of any scheme changes, either by slashing worker benefits or a harsher approach to scheme management.
“4 Corners has shown that this happened in NSW, and no doubt decision makers will try and ‘fix’ the NSW workers compensation system in response.
“The first commitment of any change must be that no injured worker is worse off – injured workers in NSW can’t afford to lose another dollar and they should not be forced to pay for iCare’s mistakes.
“The fix must be to scheme design and administration, not to slashing workers’ benefits and entitlements and we hope this is looked at also as part of the current parliamentary inquiry.
“We also don’t need to start from scratch. We know what the elements of a fair, well-designed, well-run scheme with affordable premiums looks like.
“Sadly that is not the case in NSW - the NSW scheme is broken,” she said.
Ms Sanger said it is also evident from 4 Corners that the management of complex claims in Victoria needs a shake-up, particularly the role of private insurance companies in delivering a public benefit.
“The Victorian Ombudsman has found many examples of doctor shopping, cherry picking evidence and unjustified termination of benefits that are not motivated by acting in the best interests of the worker or supporting them and their families with their health and other needs,” Ms Sanger said.
“However, the Victorian scheme design strikes a good balance of fairly compensating short and long term injuries. We welcome the State Government’s review of complex claims to ensure the scheme as a whole can be the genuine safety net that Victorians require and expect.”
Ms Sanger said the many changes to the NSW scheme had led to major reductions in benefits for injured workers including for medical expenses, weekly payments and access to legal advice.
“Too often the NSW scheme puts an injured person’s whole person impairment at the centre of any decisions about their rights and benefits, rather than properly considering the impacts of a person’s injury on their life as a whole, including their ability to work,” Ms Sanger said.
“That approach continues to fail, with workers left to pay the consequences of not getting early treatment, having their benefits cut, not being properly supported to return to work and having few options to seek compensation.”
Media inquiries: Jade Knight at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers on 0417 969 438