Workers’ compensation system improves with access to free legal help
12th Jul 2018
Much-needed changes to the NSW workers’ compensation scheme, announced in May 2018, will allow all injured workers who dispute the amount of money they receive while off work to seek help from a lawyer.
The plans to change the workers’ compensation system came after many injured workers complained of having to wrestle with a complicated and confusing system that left insurers holding all the cards on how much the payout for workplace injuries would be, leaving victims with little chance of mounting a successful challenge.
Injured workers to have access to experienced compensation lawyers
The planned changes announced by the NSW government will go some way towards improving an area of the workers’ compensation system which has been grossly unfair to victims. Under the changes, victims will have the opportunity to obtain assistance from experienced compensation lawyers who will argue their case and help them to navigate the system.
The changes will make it easier for injured workers to access free legal assistance to challenge insurers’ decisions on the amount of compensation they receive, and also to challenge decisions of the Workers’ Compensation Commission.
Workers’ compensation system swells to $4 billion surplus while injured workers have benefits cut
The changes will not reverse the severe cuts to benefits for injured workers made by the government in 2012, which saw benefit payments decline by 25% in just five years. While injured workers suffered from the drastic cuts to financial support, the workers’ compensation system has swelled to a surplus of $4 billion.
A report produced by the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work in April 2018 stated that the supposed crisis which justified the 2012 cuts was based on falsehoods, and that there was no moral or financial justification for injured workers continuing to suffer reduced benefits. (See Restoring Security and Respect: Rebuilding NSW’s Workers Compensation System.)
In December 2017, thousands of injured workers who are unable to work lost their monthly benefits under the scheme, forcing many to rely on welfare and/or charity.
Regional areas in NSW severely affected by 2012 changes to workers’ compensation
It appears that people in regional areas have been particularly hard hit by the government’s 2012 changes to the workers’ compensation system. The Central Western Daily newspaper recently reported that the number of workplace injury claims in the Orange area was 73% higher than the NSW average.
The newspaper reported that, according to the NSW government insurance and care provider icare, 400 people were injured in workplaces in Orange in 2017, equating to 26 claims per 1000 employees. (See Workplace injuries 73 per cent higher in Orange than state average.)
The convenor of the Injured Workers Support Network in Orange, Joe Maric, said it wasn’t clear why workplace injuries were higher in Orange than elsewhere. He noted that the changes made to workers’ compensation in 2012 and to work health and safety had led to an increase in workplace injuries, with the onus for safety removed from the employer.
Changes to workers’ compensation should enable faster resolution of disputes
NSW Finance Minister Victor Dominello said the reforms to workers’ compensation will improve the ‘experience’ of injured workers by improving support services, simplifying claim processes and removing duplication. Some of the changes will require legislation later in 2018.
‘A government review found that there are a number of ways in which we can improve the claims process for injured workers by enabling faster resolution of disputes’, Mr Dominello said. (See media release, New dispute resolution process for workers compensation.)
Under the proposed changes, all enquiries and complaints from injured workers that are not resolved with their insurer in the first instance will be directed to the Workers’ Compensation Independent Review Office (WIRO) for assistance.
The changes will see all enquiries and complaints from employers and other system participants being referred to the State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA). In addition, the Workers’ Compensation Commission will undertake all dispute resolution once an internal review is completed by an insurer, removing these functions from SIRA and WIRO.
A version of this article first appeared on the Stacks Law Firm website, and can be found here.
Justin Stack is a personal injury lawyer at Stacks Law Firm, practising in Taree. Justin specialises in compensation law for individuals, conducting matters for clients in NSW and interstate. His expertise lies in handling major catastrophic claims arising from motor vehicle accidents and work accidents, and in conducting public liability and occupiers’ liability cases. He also deals with total and permanent disability claims on superannuation policies. Justin has often conducted matters for non-English speaking clients, sometimes with the aid of an interpreter. He often travels to clients who have difficulty travelling to his office in Taree.
The views and opinions expressed in these articles are the authors' and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).