The Victorian Government is making structural changes to the WorkCover scheme citing increased costs and long-term efficacy and sustainability of the program, but the RTBU holds concerns with the potential impact on members in need.
Since 2010 the number of WorkCover claims has tripled, workers are staying on the scheme for longer and premiums for business are at an all-time low. The current proposal rests of 4 pillars of reform outlined below.
Proudly, Victoria has the strongest scheme in Australia and even across the world. This is not something that Australian unions will allow to be watered down easily.
In the 2021/22 financial year 2.9% of Victorian workers had time off from work due to a work-related injury. Mental health claims make up 17.13% of the total, up from 14.88% the year before and on track to become 1/3 of all claims by the end of the decade. Tragically, only 40% of workers with a mental injury return to work within 6 months. Within the same period 73% of workers with physical injury return to work. More must be done.
While it is easy to recognise that the scheme needs modernisation and employers should be asked to pay their share, the RTBU is concerned about the scope of claims covered under the proposal and a lack of details on how assessments will be conducted.
Eligibility to continue to receive payments after 130 weeks will be changed.
The current requirement they be incapacitated for all work for the foreseeable future will remain in place. In addition, they will now need to have a Whole Person Impairment (WPI) of more than 20% (an additional test).If a workers injury has not stabilised at 130 weeks, they may continue to be eligible to receive payments if an Independent Medical Examiner (IME) finds that they are likely to have a permanent injury.
The RTBU is concerned that the WPI assessment guids are inflexible and give more weight to certain types of injury over others and are highly subjective with respect to mental health injuries and don’t take into consideration individual circumstances such as capacity for re-training or language barriers. Thus far the government has not been able to quantify the number of workers that will be impacted by this change in assessment and how many future workers will be booted off the scheme after 130 weeks.
Initial eligibility for WorkCover will be changed in relation to mental health injuries.
To receive compensation, work will need to be the predominant cause of the injury (as opposed to “a significant contributing factor” as applies to physical injuries. Mental health claims for things like stress, anxiety, overwork and burnout will no longer be eligible for compensation, however mental injuries arising from workplace harassment, bullying and traumatic events will.
The RTBU is concerned with the use of different tests including a mental health test not currently used elsewhere in Australia. Further, difficulties in accessing specialist medical care to differentiate between types and levels of mental health injury means workers may trigger long wait times to obtain a certificate that satisfies the eligibility criteria.
The exclusion of particular mental health injuries also means WorkSafe will no longer investigate complaints from workers injured by workplace hazards such as overwork and burnout and to date we have not been told how many workers stand to be impacted by this change.
The government will create a new body provisionally entitled ‘Return to Work Victoria’. This is a structural change in the way support is provided and how. RTW Victoria will pay medical and like expenses for all workers who lodge a claim for WorkCover for up to 13 weeks, regardless of whether their WorkCover claim is accepted. RTW Victoria will also assist in rehabilitation, and re-training where possible with a view to getting Victorians off the scheme and back to work.
The RTBU is broadly supportive of this change however there are several unknowns regarding the structure, remit and statutory powers of the body for which we are seeking further information.
Premiums will rise to an average of 1.8% of payroll, an increase of 42% on current average premiums for employers. Given premiums have been steadily decreasing over the last 20 years and employers should be encouraged to do more to help prevent workplace injuries before they happen the RTBU is supportive of this measure and firmly believes further increases should be sought to fund a broader scope of injuries supported by the scheme. Shortfalls in revenue should be made up by increasing premiums, not cutting access or assistance.
Overall there remains to be further information provided by government on the significance and detail of changes and the RTBU is continuing to advocate for changes that do not potentially jeopardise the livelihoods of members.
Should you have any queries relating to these changes, please contact your organiser or the office on 8630 9100.