Within days of the NSW government passing controversial
legislation severely cutting back the rights and entitlements of
workers injured at work, a fork lift tipped over at Sydney markets
killing the driver.
It was one more statistic for the bookkeepers at WorkCover.
Their latest annual statistical bulletin records 139 deaths related
to work in 2008/09 – 75 killed in the workplace, 24 from
diseases as a result of employment and 40 while the person was
driving to or from work.
Workplace fatalities were up 42 per cent on the previous year.
Deaths among workers aged under 25 were up 25 per cent, mostly in
vehicle accidents. But overall deaths in the workplace are well
down on 10 and 20 years ago.
In 2008/09 more than 133,000 workplace injuries were reported to
The good news is that major injuries have declined steadily over
the previous 10 years. Overall payouts for injured workers were
well down on previous years. Claims for permanent disability were
down 42 per cent on 10 years earlier.
So while the government has been insisting it cut back workers
compensation as payouts are out of control, claims for workers
compensation are actually on the way down.
Yet the O'Farrell government has brought in a series of
cutbacks to the workers compensation scheme that will hurt some of
the most vulnerable members of our society.
The new scheme, which is retrospective in that it applies to
claims made before the laws were passed, caps weekly compensation
payments at five years for all but the most severely injured
workers. There is a time limit on the payment of medical
Fewer people will be eligible for lifetime and lump sum payments
because the threshold for serious injury is increased to 30 per
cent "whole person impairment." A worker whose foot was
amputated would not meet this new threshold.
A fierce fightback by firemen and lawyers managed to force some
concessions. Firemen and paramedics were included at the last
minute in the professions exempted from the cutbacks such as
police. Some claims for injury during driving to and from work were
Lawyers warned the changes would hurt the most vulnerable
members of the community. Australian Lawyers Alliance NSW president
Jnana Gumbert said the changes will throw many work accident
victims into great financial difficulty and hardship.
"It is simply not true that payments to workers need to be
reined in as they had gotten out of hand. The truth is that the
Global Financial Crisis and poor handling of claims by insurers are
the main reasons behind the financial bleeding of the system. Once
lump sum damages claims were mostly replaced with weekly payments
in 2002, it was inevitable that the annual cost of the scheme would
eventually blow out" she said.
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