Tens of thousands of permanently injured workers and retirees woke on New Year’s Day to find they had been hung out to dry by the NSW government.
WorkCover changes, taking effect this year, mean that up to 60,000 workers’ compensation claimants will now be footing the bill for medical expenses related to their work injuries.
“When someone gets badly injured at work – through no fault of their own – someone has to pay the bills. The O’Farrell Government has decided it is the workers themselves, and for many that means living in poverty”, said Unions NSW Deputy Assistant Secretary Emma Maiden, commenting on the changes.
Under the new rules injured workers will lose medical cover 12 months after they stop receiving workers’ compensation weekly payments. The rules apply retrospectively and will impact even those told in the past that their medical costs would be covered for life.
“Thousands of injured workers who rely on ongoing treatment and medical expenses will be affected despite many having serious injuries that require ongoing medical assistance”, John Dobson, President of the Law Society of NSW, said. “A worker with an amputation injury who has up until now been having their artificial limbs replaced by the insurer will now lose this entitlement.”
The website of the Injured Workers Support Network, which offers assistance and advice to people with work related injuries, has been flooded since news of the changes got out. “A lot of people were unaware that they’d be caught up in the changes”, Adam Grumley, the Network’s co-ordinator, told Red Flag. “We’ve received quite a lot of phone calls from very distressed people.”
Grumley thinks the consequences for many injured workers will be devastating. He highlights the case of workers who need expensive medication and will now find themselves unable to afford their treatment. “An injured worker’s dependence on pain killing medication does not automatically end with any form of legislative changes – the full ramifications will be felt over time as medical expenses pile up.”
The O’Farrell government has claimed that the cuts to entitlements were made to keep WorkCover financially viable. The same fiscal concern wasn’t evident when WorkCover insurance premiums paid by bosses were cut by an average of 12.5 percent last year.
The NSW Business Chamber, a “vocal advocate of the need to reform the NSW Workers Compensation Scheme” has hailed the strategy of saving millions for NSW business by taking it from workers’ compensation. “The NSW Business Chamber is particularly pleased to see the approach the Government took in making sure the Scheme became sustainable”, it said.
While businesses might cheer cuts to workers’ compensation, injured workers are being made to pay dearly for O’Farrell’s “reforms”.