WorkCover: Rann Cuts Injured Workers Entitlements March 2008

The history of SA WorkCover is important.

I arrived early March 2008 into Adelaide from Canberra. I found great controversy over the Rann ALP Government’s Bill to cut entitlements to injured workers. The unions were opposed, the employers in support. The debate was on.

I decided to keep out of the contest having retired some years back from the UTLC of SA, now SA Unions.

Nevertheless when asked, I referred to the history of the SA WorkCover and the OHS scheme and the principles of the reforms.

I was involved from the UTLC in designing and then implementing the new system for OHS prevention and Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation. The Labor government and the unions and employers and the SA Parliament in September1987 agreed to it

The old scheme before1987 had very high levies on employers through private insurance. It was scrapped. For workers the system was the common law right of an injured worker to sue their employer for damages. It was removed, but in its place a new statutory system of income protection to look after injured workers. There were no proper OHS laws. An OHS prevention system was developed as key to the new era. The Act still exists.

The new Workers Compensation, Rehabilitation and Occupational Health Safety and Welfare system had four main pillars:

  1. A low employer levy in a centralised system (but with some self-insurance);
  2. A new tri-partite Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation system and the WorkCover Corporation;
  3. A new OHS system for prevention and enforcement; with a new tri-partite Occupational Health and
  4. Safety Commission and elected worker health and safety representatives (the Mathews Report);
  5. Income security for injured workers until a return to work.

The Labor Ministers from Jack Wright’s planning, through the implementation by Bob Gregory and Frank Blevins under Premier John Bannon had employer and union support. I was involved to 2001.

It was Labor policy to deliver income protection for three categories injured workers –

  1. Short term injured off work, no loss of income, 100%;
  2. The longer term seriously injured worker also gets income protection (but no common law rights to sue), a fairer dispute settlement system and also has the introduction of a new rehabilitation and return to work rules;
  3. The worker permanently crippled, never to return to work, was fully compensated.

Category two was your cleaner, nurse, factory, retail or any employee with a serious injury over years, say a back injury with complications and operations. They were on the scheme legitimately with income protection and being looked after in a rehabilitation programme and to be returned to work.

Category two employees under the Rann Bill will unfairly suffer cuts to entitlements and be thrown onto inadequate social security (cost shifting from employers to the public and Commonwealth government).

The Rann government has also failed these workers with the current management of the WorkCover Corporation. The Rehabilitation and return to work system has to be better. Minister Michael Wright did nothing about his own Workers Compensation Review by retired Judge Brian Stanley, and if these recommendations had been followed then the scheme would be a lot better than it is now. Stronger OHS laws were not pursued.

Remember when the Liberals first got into Government, Minister Ingerson tried a similar Bill to cut workers’ entitlements. There was outcry from unions and injured workers and lobbying and rallies. Minister Ingerson had to negotiate on all the details of the system. This fairer system was then passed by Parliament and is basically what we have now.

Premier Rann proposes to cut back on the Liberals’ system for injured workers’ entitlements. It is not on.

Governments ought not to blame the injured worker. Governments say they are tough on working families, but not on the negligent employers whose responsibility it is to have a healthy and safe workplace.

Business SA rather than bleating about their levies should look back to their earlier agreements. WorkCover is primarily for workers, not for employers.

The reform needed now is to go forward on the 4 pillars and implement them.

Minister Wright has to stop doing nothing and has to act decisively by removing the detailed Bill and move (these are only a few basic suggestions).

OHS

1. A stronger OHS prevention programme is funded to ensure less accidents and workplace ill health.
2. Elected worker health and safety representatives are trained in every workplace to be informed about OHS problems.
3. Develop a ‘law and order’ campaign with more Inspectors, union role and higher fines for the minority of the poorest employers and a new provision to jail those managers who cause deaths at work (supported by Nick Xenophon).

Some urgent reforms for WorkCover.

1. Remove the management leadership team and Board for an improved WorkCover Corporation and put in place the Stanley Committee of Review changes.
2. Injured worker income protection is maintained; but with resources for an improved rehabilitation and return to work scheme that actually delivers (and saves money by taking injured workers off the scheme and back to work).
3. Abolish the single private sector claims management system, as the 1993 Liberal outsourcing has been a huge failure. Insource claims management as in the original scheme to save money, be financially responsibility and be fairer to injured workers.
4. Focus WorkCover investments into SA businesses, as was the original idea.

Luckily for Premier Mike Rann and his government they have another opportunity to go back to principles. They have the political skill to do the right thing by all injured workers. We shall see.And we did.

But the Rann government despite union protests did cut workers entitlements now in force with injured workers and their families suffering. And under an ALP government. Now losing support.

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