Reforms to workers’ compensation arrangements in New South Wales which were passed by the state’s lower house on Tuesday have been welcomed by business and industry groups but criticised by unions.
Ai Group NSW director Mark Goodsell says the reforms represent a long overdue step toward bringing New South Wales in line with competing states with regard to insurance premiums and is strongly supported by the majority of businesses around the state.
“For too long, NSW businesses have been disadvantaged by substantially higher WorkCover premiums than other states years – this has seen jobs and investment driven out of NSW,” Goodsell says. “This needs to stop.”
Under the reforms, which are expected to go before the state’s upper house by the end of the week, weekly benefits will be reduced after 13 weeks – a change from the current system under which workers receive 100 per cent payout after for 26 weeks.
Five-year caps for weekly benefit payments and one-year caps for the payment of medical benefits will also be introduced, albeit with exemptions for seriously injured workers.
In addition, claims for injuries sustained on the way to work will be scrapped and cover for strokes and heart attacks will only apply where work was a significant factor in increasing the risk of occurrence of these events.
The changes are being made in an effort to address a deficit of more than $4 billion in the state’s WorkCover scheme.
Without the changes, New South Wales Finance Minister Greg Pearce has previously said the state’s employers would face an increase in premiums of up to 28 per cent.
The reforms have been attacked by unions, who say the changes are a gift to the state’s employers and will hurt workers, who will be hundreds of dollars worse off within the first 26 weeks of injury and illness and will be left to cover their own medical bills after the first year.
Unions New South Wales Secretary Mark Lennon says the changes will force sick and injured workers back to work before they have recovered.
“Some of the most vulnerable people in our community will be forced to choose between keeping a roof over their head or looking after their health,” Lennon says. “That’s not a choice anyone should have to make.”
Goodsell rejects this claim, saying the reforms bring New South Wales in line with other states. He also says the changes focus on returning the less seriously injured to work earlier and provide for more objective work capacity assessments as well as more consistent support for workers in the early weeks of a claim.
“Despite the noisy opposition from WorkCover reform opponents who offer no alternatives, the Bill only brings the NSW scheme back in line with the schemes in other states,” Goodsell says.