In June 2012, the then O’Farrell Government introduced now infamous amendments to the workers compensation scheme in New South Wales. The amendments abolished cover for workers on their way to and from work, stopped payments of all medical expenses beyond one year following the cessation of weekly payments, and removed lump sum payments for pain and suffering. Other amendments gave immense power to insurance companies to determine whether a worker had a “work capacity” and whether they were thereby eligible to receive weekly payments of compensation.
Earlier this year, the WorkCover Independent Review Office found that the amendments had placed workers at a huge disadvantage. It reported that one worker had been denied a prosthetic limb after their leg was crushed by machinery and partially amputated. The new system has been widely criticised as being skewed in favour of employers and insurance companies and against workers.
In this context, the Minister for Finance and Services, Dominic Perrottet has recently announced a minor scaling back of the sweeping amendments. The changes will take effect by regulation immediately and completed with legislation at an indeterminate time in the future, according to the announcement. They will restore some benefits to workers who had claims prior to 1 October 2012.
The announced changes include:
- The provision of ongoing access to hearing aids, prostheses and home and vehicle modifications required by injured workers until retirement age.
- The extension of medical benefits to workers with “whole person impairment” between 21 and 30 per cent until retirement age.
- The extensions of benefits enjoyed by those injured at or beyond retirement age to those who were injured in the 12 months before retirement age.
- The maintenance of a workers’ right to weekly benefits until a disputed work capacity assessment is resolved.
- The provision of an entitlement to a “second surgery” in a yet-to-be defined period for workers who have undergone an initial surgery within the 12-month medical cap.
These changes are to be welcomed, as they will extend benefits to some workers who were stripped of their rights two years ago. However, they are very circumscribed. They generally cease at retirement age, regardless of whether a workplace injury continues to affect a worker beyond retirement. They appear to apply only to those who had a claim prior to 1 October 2012. In short, they appear to be adjustments of a most modest degree that are being made in the face of an upcoming election. The precise details of these adjustments are yet to become entirely clear. However, if you feel they may assist you, you should contact Turner Freeman.