On the 26th of August 2006 the WIRC and IND MP Nick Xenophon hosted the 2006 WorkCover Forum. Here we saw a gathering of injured and clearly frustrated South Australian workers, some VOID members, media persons and representatives from WorkCover as well as some other organisations.
The hotly debated topic of the day was the decision by WorkCover to close the EAU (Employee Advocate Unit). It would appear this was one area of the scheme that 'was' working. Well, it was working in favour of the injured workers. Clearly the department felt it unnecessary.
It should be noted here that the WorkCover representatives that were present were so by choice and we acknowledge this as being a very positive (and rather brave) gesture. It should also be said that there would be far more benefit from these forums if something actually transpires from their presence. By that we mean, being present is not the only measure of good faith.
First of all I would like to thank Rosemary of WIRC and Nick Xenophon for allowing me to speak today on behalf of VOID.
VOID is a very new group and is mostly made up of people who have felt cheated - not only by the terrible loss they have incurred but also by departments just like WorkCover.
I have tried many times to take into account the position of WorkCover and the fraudulent actions of a small group of people. It's always a minority that creates a necessity for insurance-like-departments to treat claims with some level of wariness.
When it comes to fatal injuries in the workplace however, I have yet to receive any positive feedback with regard to WorkCover - regardless as to the success of the claim.
I certainly hope that there are some officials here from the department that will take note of what I have to say on this topic. I make no apologies for my scathing opinions. Your treatment of these people is nothing short of deplorable.
You see I suspect that there is a general consensus out there amongst South Australian's that leads them to believe that if they are hurt at work, there's a safety net …that there's a system in place that will take care of them and their loved ones.It's become a stark reality that this isn't even close to being true.
I know today…that had my son survived his horrible accident with one arm left in tact on his body… what was left of his life would have tuned to a foul sludge - and WorkCover would have fought hand tooth and nail to save every dime they could on his care. There is no question in my mind today - based on what I have learned in the last 2 years - that his death would have been an enormous relief to them. He was a young worker with no wife or children - no claim - book closed.
I've sat on the phone with people recounting their stories and I can honestly say I have been left numb. And I'm no stranger to that feeling believe me. It never ceases to amaze me the hardship and struggle these bureaucrats put good people through.
Imagine if you can…You're a happily married housewife…and one horrid day you find yourself facing the news that your husband has been crushed to death at work - as a result of the negligence of his employer. You're income goes to zero in an instant. You have a property to maintain (alone) and the bills keep coming. Any money that you may be entitled to will take months. In the meantime, you just have to suck eggs.
Sorry darling, no time for grieving. You're too busy worrying how the hell you're going to keep a roof over your head!
Finally WorkCover starts to move … eventually, if you're one of the lucky ones, you will be told you have a claim. But it won't be what you might expect. In this case it was 50% of his base wage - not income - base wage. For anyone who works in the 'real' world, they'll understand that a lot of families don't survive on base wages - they get by on overtime!You'll be assigned someone they refer to as a 'loss adjuster' or 'case manager' if we want to sugar coat it. WorkCover will come in and look at your life with a magnifying glass. They want to make sure you still fit their mould.
They'll look at what you earn from any sources - any nest eggs or investments. You know that lump sum payment - Lord, don't go investing that. They will reduce your allowance.
Oh but wait, it gets better.
That person will come and look around to look for any evidence that might suggest you're shacking up. You might be faced with having to justify a man's shirt hanging on the clothesline - so don't go wearing any of your dead husbands shirts for comfort now will you? Heck…they may like to have a peek in the bedroom - as they do. How many cars are in the driveway? Start talking lady…and remember not to look too tormented because that might raise suspicions…Long forgotten is the fact that you've been moving through hell just trying to come to terms with the horrible death the love of your life endured. The company responsible for the death… they've long ago paid their measly fine and gotten on with business. You're the one left stuck in the bureaucratic heap now.And the irony of this is that the above scenario is a perfect example of absolute entitlement. There are many more that just don't quite fit the WorkCover mould.
Take the couple that had been together for 7 years and moved in together 2 years before his death. They lived as any normal married couple. Defacto relationships are common today. It all sounds simple enough - they share everything but the wedding certificate. You'd think so.
Claim denied - on the grounds that there's isn't enough evidence that this relationship was anything more than just a passing fling … boyfriend and girlfriend. Isn't it just a bit ironic that if you happen to apply for unemployment benefits or a pension, a defacto union is considered and treated just like a marriage?
Sorry but I have to ask. Do the people that make these decisions have some kind of wee gee board or telepathic contact with the dead? All of this must have come as a terrible shock to the surviving partner. Those late night chats about their future together must have been a figment of someone's imagination because … WorkCover said so. This woman has just been told that the relationship she shared with the love of her life amounted to nothing. Another recent call I had from a woman who lost her partner 10 years ago.
Here we had a young mother with a toddler at the time of her partner's death. She is so bitter and angry about the way she was treated by WorkCover and the system it took me 4 hours trying to calm her so I could get any sense out of the situation.
I just could not understand for the life of me how this little boy and his mother were abandoned. Not only were they denied any assistance; she was made to feel like a fraud. There were 'insinuations' that the child was not his. She told me she offered DNA samples of her son - she is still happy to submit his DNA for testing. It appears though that her offer has fallen on deaf ears.
Initially when this couple's baby was born, the father was not in the picture. My understanding was that there was some question over whether this baby would be born with a debilitating disease and he was scared. The baby was normal though and so Dad became more and more involved in his young son's life. There were plans for marriage…the gown hanging in the wardrobe. It wasn't to be a huge affair - his family did not like her and from what I can gather, his family were quite influential. They play no part in their grandson's life. It seems no one wants to be a part of this boy's support system.Now regardless of whether we like the idea of children being born out of wedlock, we had a situation here that required some careful management. Children are not to blame for the decisions adults make…but don't they almost always pay the price?That little boy is the loser in all of this.
But as an added twist, just as I was thinking maybe WorkCover had proof the child was not his - it seems the employer - one of those huge multi-million dollar entities we see quoted in the stock market - determined that they'd put $8000 in a fund for this boy - this money could not be accessed until he turns 21.
So clearly someone recognised that this child was a product of this deceased man. But WorkCover rendered no financial assistance to his upbringing.
This young child will of course one day become an adult. While he may have little memory of his Dad, he won't soon forget his Mum's pain or those who caused it.
Let's hope this youngster doesn't end up another angry man society will need to deal with.
You see…what we at VOID need for the people at WorkCover to realise is that a workplace fatality comes with an immediate deluge of emotional scars. People in the height of their loss are simply not equipped to deal with your bureaucracy.
They do not deserve to be treated like charity cases and parasites on the system.
They do not deserve to be judged on some moral high ground or be abandoned because they are a slightly square peg that doesn't fit into the round hole.
WorkCover replaced the rights of people to be compensated through common law. The companies who cause these deaths are ironically the ones that are afforded the highest level of consideration. Those left to mourn are either completely forgotten or made to jump through hoops.
This system actually causes the fragile families to 'fracture' because the way it is structured it singles out just a few who many have some sense of relief while others are rejected.
Has anyone seen the TV commercial WorkCover put out a few months ago?
There's a young child talking about how it was up to everyone to help his Daddy get better after his accident - even him! Yep it seems we've decided to make the children responsible for workplace accidents now. My first thought, when I saw that advert was - what an absolute abysmal waste of money!
My second thought was --- well it was a question really. Was there a sugar coated message in there somewhere?
To WorkCover it doesn't matter that you've been cheated of your future, your life plans and dreams.
Parents are entitled to nothing after losing a child. I myself received a letter from WorkCover about a week or so after my son's death. It was addressed to me - his mother - and it said that my claim had been lodged but that they would need to wait until the Coroner brought down his finding to determine the amount. The strange thing was, I never lodged a claim! When I followed up with them on that letter, all they told me was I should get a lawyer.
WorkCover told another mother, as they helped her fill in a claim form, that she would be entitled to a substantial sum of money. There was a friend (a witness) with her at the time - a Police woman no less - so we're pretty certain she didn't dream this.
She never had a claim … whoever told her she did obviously was off with the pixies on another planet.This might be a really good time for me to suggest that this department commence a little in-house training…stop the confusion. Parents do not get compensated for losing their children - there is nothing more than a $3000 civil liberty claim entitlement IF the employer is found negligent and in breach of the law.
It doesn't matter that this is one mother of a nightmare you've been dragged into or that your soul has been ripped out. They do not care. The judicial system does not care.
The treatment afforded to grieving, heart broken families is nothing short of disgusting.