THE NSW government is considering cutting benefits under the workers compensation scheme by putting a cap on medical expenses payouts, removing coverage for injury claims relating to journeys to and from work and reducing weekly compensation payments.
The Finance and Services Minister, Greg Pearce, released an issues paper yesterday on the scheme which he described as unsustainable because it has a deficit of $4.1 billion.
Mr Pearce said that without significant reform NSW businesses would face a 28 per cent increase in WorkCover premiums, which would stall the state’s economy and jobs growth.Advertisement: Story continues below http://ad-apac.doubleclick.net/adi/onl.smh.news/national/nsw;cat=national;cat1=nsw;ctype=article;pos=3;sz=300×250;tile=3;ord=9.2130494E7?
”The government is determined to provide injured workers the best safety net that we can and to ensure return to work as quickly as possible where a worker is able to return to work,” he said. ”One of our concerns is that premiums in NSW are already 20 to 60 per cent higher than our main competitors in Victoria and Queensland.”
The government had not yet made any decisions about how it would reform the WorkCover scheme, Mr Pearce said, but it released a government working paper that suggests cuts to benefits to manage the deficit.
The issues paper presents a case for removing coverage of journey claims, introducing caps for medical coverage and the duration of weekly payments and excluding nervous shock claims from relatives or dependants of workers who die or are injured on the job. It also suggests removing pain and suffering as a separate category of compensation and incorporating this into lump sum payments. Regulation of health providers has also been suggested to curb increases in medical costs in the past five years.
The government has appointed a parliamentary committee to hold an inquiry into how the scheme should be reformed.
The eight-member committee will be chaired by the Shooters and Fishers Party MP Robert Borsak and will include four government MPs, two from the Labor Party and one other MP from the crossbench.
The Labor Party leader, John Robertson, the former head of Unions NSW who opposed former premier Bob Carr’s WorkCover reforms, accused the government yesterday of removing a crucial safety net for all injured workers and their families. He said the committee had a majority of conservative MPs who would deliver the government’s agenda.
”This committee has been set up as a whitewash by a gutless and heartless government that is seeking to rip away the entitlements of injured workers,” he said.
”We are going to see massive cuts to workers’ compensation entitlements which will leave injured workers and families who have suffered the loss of a loved one left destitute simply because this government is looking at ways it can cut away at the entitlements of every worker in NSW.”
The Unions NSW secretary, Mark Lennon, said the changes floated in the government’s issues paper appeared to flag an agenda to cut benefits.
”Workers deserve to be protected when they’re travelling to and from work – that’s a basic right. It’s completely callous to put this on the chopping block,” he said.
”Preventing nervous shock claims from relatives of deceased workers is simply heartless. The families of workers who have died in workplace tragedies need to be supported, not abandoned.”
The Greens MP David Shoebridge described the parliamentary inquiry as a ”mock inquiry with no independence”.
”It is completely dominated by Coalition members and right-wing minor parties,” Mr Shoebridge said.