Andersons Solicitors has a long and proud tradition of fighting for industrial fairness and the health and safety of our clients. We acknowledge that our clients work in some inherently unsafe and hazardous environments and often succumb to physical and psychological injuries as a result of their employment.
We believe that a decent and fair workers compensation system should appropriately compensate workers for lost income (during periods of incapacity) as well as medical treatment associated with their compensable injury.
"...the Return to Work scheme has stripped vulnerable South Australian workers of many rights and entitlements..."
In July 2015, the Return to Work Act came into operation and repealed the old Workers Rehabilitation & Compensation Act 1986 (WRCA). Whilst we acknowledge that problems did exist with the repealed WRCA, the Return to Work scheme has stripped vulnerable South Australian workers of many rights and entitlements, and many of the legislative changes are causing significant hardship to South Australian injured workers.
The South Australia Parliament has established numerous Parliamentary Committees to deal with a variety of different issues affecting our state. One such Committee is the ‘Occupational Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Committee’. In the lead up to 30 September 2016, the Committee sought submissions from individuals and organisations regarding problems associated with the Return to Work scheme.
Throughout September 2016, Andersons worked closely with our partner unions to draft a comprehensive submission to the Parliamentary Committee for consideration. Our submission considered numerous legal matters and focused on topics including:
- The more stringent requirements for accessing the scheme, particularly relating to psychological injuries (in other words, the Return to Work law makes it more difficult for workers to have their claims accepted);
- The two year cap on income maintenance (that is, your weekly wages) unless a worker meets the extremely high 30% seriously injured threshold. This means that most workers will have their payments automatically ceased after a maximum two year period even if they remain totally incapacitated to return to their workplace;
- The arbitrary cessation of medical expenses for non-seriously injured workers, without a proper enquiry into whether medical treatment is reasonable and necessary in the circumstances;
- The onerous requirements for accessing common law damages (that is, being able to sue your employer) against a negligent employer. This denies most workers the right to seek compensation from their employer, even if their employer’s extreme recklessness or negligence caused the injury;
- Unfair transitional clauses for those who transitioned from the WRCA scheme to the Return to Work scheme;
- And other relevant matters.
"We are particularly concerned that many injured workers will be cut off from their entitlements to income maintenance and medical expenses simply because they reach an arbitrary time limit."
We are particularly concerned that many injured workers will be cut off from their entitlements to income maintenance and medical expenses simply because they reach an arbitrary time limit. Their entitlements will cease even if they remain significantly incapacitated for employment and reliant on their medical treatment. Basically, the Return to Work scheme will leave many injured workers out in the cold without support, even if they still suffer the effects of their work-related disability.
Many workers will have no choice but to apply for welfare benefits once their income support expires, and many other workers will be unable to afford their treatment (for example, physiotherapy) and medication once their entitlement expires. We consider this to be extremely harsh and unjust.
Fortunately, many clients were prepared to allow us to use their personal stories to demonstrate the inherent unfairness of some of the elements of the Return to Work law. We are hopeful that their stories will persuade Parliament to amend the harsh and punitive legislation.
We will prepare further blogs as the Parliamentary Committee process continues.
If you are suffering from a workplace injury and need advice or assistance regarding your rights and entitlements, contact today’s blog writer Michael Irvine.