Workcover changes a threat to workers
By Melanie Sjoberg
ADELAIDE — More than 400 angry workers and community members crammed into the Irish Hall on February 1, hoping that state industrial relations minister Graham Ingerson would allay their concerns about proposed changes to the Workcover system. Ingerson did not even turn up.
The meeting, organised by the Coalition for Fair Workers Compensation, heard lawyer John Pierce explain the complexities of the government legislation. Shadow minister Ralph Clarke also addressed the meeting.
Speakers from the floor expressed outrage at the current ineffective Workcover system. Injured workers can spend years wading through bureaucratic red tape with very limited results. Frustrated speakers pointed out that Workcover had been eroded by the ALP long before the Liberals were elected.
An injured ex-nurse told Green Left Weekly that she has been on Workcover since 1991. Despite two years of "rehabilitation" and participation in a scheme that was supposed to locate alternative work options, she was offered only one position in three years. She lives in fear each week that she will receive a cut-off letter, rather than her payment. A friend had recently committed suicide as a result of stress over Workcover problems.
The United Trades and Labor Council (UTLC) points out that the main beneficiaries of the legislation will be negligent employers. After 12 months, there will be no onus on employers to rehabilitate injured workers or keep open the possibility for workers to return to their jobs.
Benefits would no longer be based on average weekly earnings, which take regular overtime and allowances into account. After 12 months, most workers would face a reduction of their benefit to DSS pension levels.
It is also proposed that the definition of "compensational injury" be narrowed and workers required to prove that an injury is entirely or primarily work related. This will seriously limit stress claims and those related to long-term exposure to chemical hazards. "Proof" could require a significant invasion of people's private lives.
Appeal rights would also be lost. Workers would have to put forward their own cases, without a right to representation.
The UTLC says that most of the proposed changes will impose an even heavier burden on injured women workers.
The difficulty of proving that injuries are work related will also potentially cause greater discrimination. For instance, women who lodge claims for stress or overuse injury could be accused of sustaining it from domestic tasks or tensions.
The government is also attempting to privatise the claims section of the Workcover department. Private insurance companies would have little interest in costly long-term recovery programs.
A rally to defend Workcover has been called for Wednesday, February 15, at 12.30 p.m. at Parliament House. Many workers are planning to converge on Victoria Square before marching to the rally. The Automotive, Food, Metals and Engineering Union is conducting workplace meetings to organise its membership for the day.