THOUSANDS of injured NSW workers will have injury payments axed under tough workers compensation laws expected to pass state parliament today.
Previously uncapped medical bills for injured workers will be cut after one year – except in the most serious cases.
Uncapped weekly payments will be axed after five years, except for cases which involve permanent disability.
Premier Barry O’Farrell introduced the long-awaited WorkCover reforms in the final week of sittings before the winter break, declaring parliament would not rise before the laws were passed.
Changes will affect 40,000 people already receiving benefits and aims to rein in a $4 billion deficit in the scheme.
Weekly payments will be reduced after 13 weeks, replacing the current system of a 100 per cent payout for 26 weeks.
The government said that under the current system – without a cap – people were staying on weekly benefits for an average eight years.
Injuries during trips to and from work would also no longer be covered. Families of people who died or were injured on the job would not be able to claim compensation for shock.
“This scheme was never about providing all injured workers with support for life,” Mr O’Farrell said yesterday.
“This scheme was about trying to encourage workers who have been injured, who are capable of returning to work, to get back to work. That is the best thing for them, it’s the best thing for the community, it’s the best thing for the economy. But, equally, these reforms are about ensuring those who are severely injured, totally incapacitated, there will be the ongoing support they deserve.”
Unions NSW secretary Mark Lennon claimed the changes were the “biggest attack on working people in 100 years”.
Finance Minister Greg Pearce said WorkCover was costing the state up to $9 million a day (on top of the workers comp premiums employers pay). He said changes were expected to reduce annual costs by 25 per cent.
“If the whole package goes through we will save between $3 billion and $4 billion in the first couple of years,” he said.
“We hope to get back in the black in three to five years.
“It’s a bit more generous than Victorian legislation for the more seriously injured and about the same as Victoria with (less serious) injuries.
“(The scheme’s) $4 billion deficit is spiralling out of control and we simply cannot afford to wait around.”
Mr Pearce said in a briefing not to MPs that NSW workplaces were no more hazardous than in Queensland or Victoria but workers compensation premiums “cost about 20 to 60 per cent more on average”.
Opposition Leader John Robertson said the changes were being “rammed” through parliament.