NSW WorkCover changes - Expect mental health crisis says ALA

4th Jul 2012

“Traumatised families struggling to cope with horrific deaths of loved ones are being forced into financial hardship following the O’Farrell Government’s cuts to WorkCover compensation last month,” the Australian Lawyers Alliance said today.

These include a father who witnessed his 16-year-old son crushed to death in a machine in front of him in 2009 but is ineligible for financial support from WorkCover; and a woman whose husband was similarly killed in a pulping mill in 2011 and who is not only dealing with her own psychological trauma without WorkCover assistance, but is trying to help her young daughter to cope as well.

“These people were already falling through the cracks prior to the changes and are now bracing themselves trying to fathom how they are going to continue to pay their mortgages and keep a roof over their families’ heads,” ALA NSW President, Jnana Gumbert, said.

“What is the O’Farrell Government thinking? These changes, will very likely lead to a mental health crisis in NSW as traumatised families battle grief and financial hardship.

"What is the sense in putting $5.8 billion into mental health each year, when the removal of compensation for nervous shock for relatives, just adds to an ever increasing queue of anguished families with mental health issues that need addressing? This is a ridiculous situation where one tier of government is undermining services of another,” she said.

Among the raft of changes, many of which came without warning, was the removal of families’ existing rights to claim for nervous shock and pain and suffering after a worker is killed and removal of the right to claim death benefits by non-dependent family members.

“So for parents of a child killed at work, whose child has no legal dependents, you have no right to claim any benefits despite the trauma of losing someone who you brought into the world and nurtured,” Ms Gumbert said.

“And if you are a non-dependent spouse or child of a worker killed and you have a part time job and no legal dependents you will also receive nothing,” she said.

“This is all despite a Sydney University Health Science September report, examining grief stricken families of one sector alone – construction workers – showing more financial help was urgently needed to avoid mental health catastrophes.

"The report stated that financial consequences, including short or long-term monetary hardship, usually followed the traumatic work-related death and this was exacerbated by lack of compensation to help families get by:

'For those who could access compensation, it typically took an unduly long time to obtain, which created further stress and added greater strain to existing financial situations. Some participants were not eligible for compensation because their loved ones were sub-contractors, or, at the time of death, they were legally classified as non-dependent. These participants reported extreme financial adversity that in some cases necessitated a long-term reliance on social security support mechanisms.'”

Ms Gumbert said the WorkCover changes now being introduced included claims already before the commission. They would remove worker protections, from costs charged by insurers – the same insurers who would carry out their work capacity assessments, despite financial conflicts of interest. These decisions would also be final and binding with no review or judicial appeal available to those whose claims were rejected.

She said most work-related deaths were sudden and violent leading to huge trauma that was immeasurable and long lasting.

“The financial, social, physical and psychological impact often leads to relationship break ups and social isolation as people struggle to deal with their grief.

"This is not only immoral, but poor financial management, as more money will have to be spent trying to fix people forced into substance abuse, resulting mental illness and homelessness because of these measures,” Ms Gumbert said.

Tags: NSW Workers' rights WorkCover Workers compensation