The Guardian April 25, 2001


Carr Government puts the boot into injured workers

NSW construction workers kicked off a campaign by the State's unions 
against the Carr Government's plans to further undermine 
workers'compensation in NSW with a 24-hour stop work on April 19.

If the Government's Workers' Compensation Legislation Amendment Bill 2001 
is passed it will slash the rights of injured workers to any compensation 
for work-related injuries under the workers' compensation system or at 
common law. The unions are being supported by doctors' and lawyers' 
associations, with the Law Society of NSW saying that "the Carr Government 
has put the boot into people's legal rights".

Compensation solicitor Fiona Harris said, "The only way we can stop the 
government from once again reducing the rights of injured people is to 
publicly protest [against] the Workers' Compensation Legislation Amendment 
Bill 2001."

Workers will not receive lump sum payments under the new arrangements if 
they cannot prove that they have suffered a 10 percent permanent bodily 
impairment as a result of their injury. Workers will also not receive any 
compensation at common law if they cannot prove that they have suffered 25 
percent permanent bodily impairment.

Before any disputed claims go before a court for hearings they will have to 
go before a new Claims Assessment Service which has the power to make 
legally binding decisions on matters, including the degree of a worker's 
permanent bodily impairment.

Around 95 percent of injured workers who are currently eligible for 
compensation would receive no payments under the new laws, as exampled by 
the following case studies under the proposed scheme:

* A 30-year-old labourer who sustains a severe back injury and is presently 
entitled to $350,000, would receive no damages;

* A 25-year-old machinist who loses two fingers will get no compensation, 
presently entitled to lump sum benefits of almost $300,000;

* A 40-year-old process worker who suffers severe injury to the right 
shoulder, and was previously entitled to $225,000, will not qualify for 
damages;

* A 20-year-old apprentice carpenter who suffers 30 percent damage to the 
neck will receive no damages payment, though previously being entitled to a 
verdict of around $300,000.

Medical assessors will determine a worker's right to compensation. Injured 
workers will not have the right to speak about their pain and suffering 
before the Claims Assessment Service, which the Construction, Forestry, 
Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) says will be loaded with Government 
appointees and perhaps some token union representation.

Workers will not have the right to appeal except in the most extreme cases.

Continuing attack

These latest moves by the Carr Government are part of its ongoing attack on 
workers' compensation rights in NSW. In 1998 a scheme was introduced 
whereby private insurance companies are allowed to reward doctors a bonus 
fee of $55 if they sign a return to work form at the first consultation.

If the return to work form is signed at the second or subsequent 
consultation, then the reward is $45. Payment for upgrading an increase in 
"suitable" duties for an injured worker already on light duties is $25.

Doctor-patient confidentiality was abandoned under these arrangements, 
injured workers being required to sign over permission at their first visit 
to allow the doctor to discuss the case with employers, insurers and injury 
management consultants.

Now the Government is once again hitting injured workers to protect 
employer and insurance company profits. "Our members are furious at Labor's 
comprehensive failure to address the real problem in workers' comp", said 
CFMEU Construction Division State Secretary Andrew Ferguson.

"Working people understand why there is a problem in NSW  it is the 
systematic non-compliance with the law on the part of the bosses, and the 
Government's failure to police compliance."

When asked if other state governments would be watching the outcome of this 
struggle in NSW, the CFMEU's Phil Davey said: "Absolutely. There's the 
precedent value, [it] is extremely high. If this thing doesn't get stopped 
here in NSW there's the potential flow-on effect.

"This is where you get into the big themes  globalisation, the race to 
the bottom where States have to compete to get investment based on their 
capacity to do over injured workers." 

Examples of what compo changes mean to injured workers

1) A mechanic with a wife and two children to support loses two 
fingers in a work-related accident. As a result he is not able to work as a 
mechanic again and cannot support his family. Under the proposed new scheme 
he will not get any lump sum compensation for his injury, pain and 
suffering as he will be assessed as having minimum permanent bodily 
impairment under the workers' compensation system and at common law.

2) A labourer severely strains her back during the course of her 
work. She is likely to recover from the strain at sometime in the future 
but suffers from intense pain and is physically unable to work as a 
labourer for years. Under the proposed new scheme she will not get any lump 
sum compensation for her injury, pain and suffering at common law as her 
injury does not meet the requirement of total permanent bodily impairment.

3) A farmhand who, due to his injury, is unable to do the things he 
loves in his spare time like playing football, rebuilding cars or 
renovating his home, will not have any of these loses taken into account in 
the assessment of his impairment. Under the proposed new scheme his injury 
alone will be assessed and if it is not assessed as more than the new 
minimum level of total bodily impairment then he will get no compensation 
under the workers' compensation system or at common law.

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