There is one thing almost all parties involved in the current debate on proposed changes to the New South Wales workers compensation scheme can agree on: the system is in desperate need of reform.
Beyond that, however, much is in dispute. On one hand, employer groups and the state government say that many of the proposed changes in an issues paper set to be debated in a parliamentary inquiry this week are needed and sensible. Unions, on the other hand, say they represent an attack on society’s most vulnerable people.
Key measures in the paper include:
- Caps on the duration for weekly compensation payments and medical expenses – weekly compensation payments, for instance, would be limited to two and a half years.
- Shorter ‘step down’ timeframes which see weekly compensation payments gradually reduced after specified time periods.
- Eliminating compensation for injuries which occur in circumstances beyond the employer’s control, such as injuries which occur while employees commute to and from work and strokes/heart attacks for which work was not a significant contributing factor.
Business, Health Care Support, Union Opposition
The government says the scheme as it stands is badly managed and that the changes, while painful for some workers, are necessary in order to address a $4.1 billion dollar deficit.
Moreover, with the state’s employers already paying between 20 and 60 per cent more than other states, NSW Finance Minister Greg Pearce says, simply fixing this by raising the premiums paid by employers is not an option.
The calls for change have received widespread support among business and health advocacy groups, a number of whom have joined forces to create the Alliance for a Safer and Competitive Workplace.
But the caps on payments and medical expenses have riled unions, who have launched an advertising campaign against the changes and announced a major rally to be held outside state Parliament on June 13.
“Major workplace rights are on the chopping block here – the right to compensation for sick and injured workers is absolutely crucial,” Unions NSW secretary, Mark Lennon says. “There’s no question that reform is needed, but it must not be at the expense of society’s most vulnerable people (sick and injured workers.)”
Employer groups, however, are dismissive of such concerns.
”What the current NSW union scare campaign doesn’t tell you is that other states manage this balance far better than NSW,” says Australian Industry Group NSW director Mark Goodsell.