Campbell Newman’s Liberal National Party government is continuing its assault on Queensland workers. Recently passed changes to WorkCover, the state’s workers’ compensation scheme, will have a drastic and immediate impact on entitlements.
Despite a parliamentary committee recommending that WorkCover be maintained in its current form – a sentiment echoed by the overwhelmingly majority of Queenslanders – changes have greatly reduced the ability of injured workers to sue their employer.
From 15 October a new injury threshold of 5 percent will be imposed. Workers whose impairment is deemed to be less than this will no longer be able to sue their employers.
As an example, a worker who loses a finger – an injury which in some industries would severely restrict someone’s ability to work – would be deemed to be under the impairment threshold.
Other changes mean that workers can be required to disclose personal medical information to potential employers, allowing them to use this material to screen out workers with existing conditions.
Employers will now be able to access a job applicant’s workers’ compensation history. Those with previous injuries, even if fully recovered, may be viewed with suspicion and denied employment.
It will also be harder under the new rules to prove cases of psychological or psychiatric injury caused in the workplace. Given the stigma already associated with mental illness, any tightening of the law will make it much less likely that injured workers will receive the support they deserve.
Unions estimate that the changes will affect some 50 percent of workers injured because of employer negligence. They also point out that the changes will reduce the incentive for employers to provide a safe workplace, given the reduction in their financial liability for injuries.
There is no crisis in WorkCover – the fund made a $500 million profit last financial year. And according to the Australian Lawyers Alliance, common law injury claims are also down in Queensland by some $50 million on last year.
The changes have nothing to do with reining in costs or cracking down on compo “rorts”. They have everything to do with sticking the boot into Queensland’s most vulnerable and continuing the LNP’s vicious attacks on workers.