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Emily Bourke reported this story on Monday, May 14, 2012 06:11:00

TONY EASTLEY: Unions are ramping up their campaign against cuts to compensation for injured workers in New South Wales.

The State Government there is planning a massive overhaul of workers’ compensation entitlements in response to a multi-billion dollar blowout in WorkCover claims.

Under the proposed changes medical benefits would be capped. Claims for injuries incurred while travelling to and from work would be banned.

Unions say the changes would force many sick and injured workers back to work and drive others onto pensions and into poverty.

Emily Bourke reports.

EMILY BOURKE: Forty-two year old Grant Casey was a parole officer before he injured his back moving a table at work in 2009.

GRANT CASEY: I’ve had five lots of surgery. They tried cutting away the disc and then an implant but that didn’t work and they ended up fusing it.

I ended up having a knee reconstruction because I was utilising my knees more you know. And I’ve had bowel problems because of the medication I’m taking and had surgery with that.

EMILY BOURKE: Despite the pain Grant Casey tried to get back to work.

CASEY: There was a phone call saying it’s cancelled – there’s no light duties available. You can either come back fully fit or there is no returning to work. So I went back to work full-time in January 2011, about July or August I think, from the surgery it hadn’t stabilised. I was just getting intense pain. It was just aggravating. You know at the end of the day all we want to do is get – I know that I just want to get back to my best and get back to work.

EMILY BOURKE: The New South Wales Government says the WorkCover scheme is costing far too much and it wants to put a cap on benefits to injured workers and that has Grant Casey worried.

GRANT CASEY: I would have no income whatsoever now if that was introduced. I’d be in dire financial straits.

EMILY BOURKE: So what would you do?

GRANT CASEY: Either get assistance from family or have to sell the home.

EMILY BOURKE: The Government’s planned changes would also scrap compensation for injuries sustained during trips to and from work and nervous shock payouts to partners of those killed at work.

Mark Lennon is from Unions New South Wales.

MARK LENNON: At the moment injured workers’ payments are basically at the award rate for the first 26 weeks and then they move to a statutory rate.

The Government is proposing to reduce their payments after 13 weeks but we’re seeing proposals that after two and half years weekly payments would cease and also after two and a half years for those injured, severely injured workers and others, it appears there’ll be a cap on their medical payments.

EMILY BOURKE: There has been a $4 billion deficit. Surely something has to give?

MARK LENNON: Well that’s why we’re proposing reforms that would help people get back to work more quickly, remembering of course that about half that deficit is owing to the present financial circumstances, their 10 year estimates of the liabilities of the scheme. Of course should the economy pick up the deficit will also reduce.

But there are some changes that need to be made. We admit that. What we say is that it shouldn’t be attacking workers benefits. As we say, I think there’s improvements a) in administration, b) in the way the insurance agents react with the scheme or interact with the scheme, and c) as we say, improving the way we can get people back to work more quickly.

EMILY BOURKE: And he warns the changes will force injured and sick people even further away from work.

MARK LENNON: Ultimately what happens is that they end up moving onto other forms of benefits such as disability support pensions. So in a sense the issue doesn’t go away, it’s just removed from the state taxpayer to the federal taxpayer.

EMILY BOURKE: The State’s Finance Minister says reform of WorkCover is a matter of the highest priority for the Government.

A parliamentary inquiry into the proposed changes begins this week and will report back next month.

TONY EASTLEY: Emily Bourke.


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