The combined union campaign against cuts to injured workers’ entitlements has resulted in some improved benefits for injured workers and their families.
In 2012 the NSW Government slashed the entitlements of injured workers in terms of weekly and lump sum payments, medical and related expenses and journey claims.
Over the past three years the campaign coordinated by Unions NSW has highlighted the impact of these cuts on injured workers and their families through lobbying activities, rallies, and other events which gave a voice to injured workers.
In addition, Unions NSW commissioned Macquarie University to prepare a report on the impact of the legislative changes in 2012. The report, released in December 2013, found that the cost of workplace injuries was increasingly shifting from the workers compensation scheme to injured workers and their families. Many injured workers were also being forced onto Centrelink payments and to use Medicare for treatments previously provided by workers compensation. The study also found that employers had benefited from premium reductions of about 17 per cent and the WorkCover scheme has an estimated surplus of approximately $2.5 billion.
Federation actively engaged in the campaign and made submissions to the many inquiries and reviews.
The Workers Compensation Amendment Bill 2015 proposes some important changes, which will, in part, address issues raised by Federation and other unions.
- New provisions for “workers with high needs” defined as more than 20 per cent permanent WPI (whole person impairment). These workers may have some capacity to work, often for a limited number of hours per week. Currently workers who are unable to work a minimum of 15 hours per week cannot have their wages topped up with workers compensation after 130 weeks. The proposed changes remove this requirement around minimum hours for workers who have been assessed as “high needs”. “Workers with high needs” will also be able to access approved medical expenses related to their injury for life.
- All workers, regardless of their level of impairment, will receive “reasonably necessary” medical expenses for a minimum of two years from the claim date or when weekly payments cease. This is an increase of one year. Similarly, workers assessed between 11 per cent and 20 per cent WPI will be able to access approved medical expenses for up to five years from the claim date or when weekly payments cease.
- Workers who are injured when they are close to retirement age will receive weekly payments for up to 12 months after reaching retirement age. Currently these payments cease on reaching retirement age.
- Compensation for certain kinds of approved medical treatment, and artificial aids such as hearing aids will no longer have a time limit of one year.
- Injured workers who require additional surgery will be covered for this surgery as long as it is approved within two years of the earlier surgery being approved.
Federation and other unions also pursued improvements for workers who have died at work or suffered permanent total or partial incapacity. Proposed changes include:
- An increase to the amount paid to the dependants of a worker who has died in a workplace accident from $524,000 to $750,000. There has also been an increase in funeral benefits from $9000 to $15,000.
- The renaming of a “seriously injured worker”, with a permanent WPI of more than 30 per cent, as a “worker with highest needs”. This level of impairment generally means the worker cannot undertake any type of work. These workers will receive an increase in weekly payments. The minimum will be $788 per week.
- An increase in the amount of lump sum compensation for permanent impairment, which will be indexed with CPI. Workers can still only bring one claim for permanent impairment compensation.
- Up to $1000 is available for injured workers who cannot return to their previous job, for expenses (such as tools and work clothes) associated with their new job.
- Workers with more than 20 per cent WPI who have received weekly payments for 78 weeks will be able to receive up to $8000 for retraining assistance, which will be paid directly to the registered training organisation.
The Workers Compensation Bill 2015 has received the assent of the NSW Parliament. Regulations will be developed which will provide further detail, including the date the changes will commence. The combined union campaign to restore the rights and entitlements of injured workers to receive at least the benefits which existed prior to the 2012 changes will continue. Federation will provide more detailed advice when the regulations are finalised.