From the silent voice of death come the soundest lessons in life

Once again Rosemary and the WIRC need to be acknowledged for putting together another forum.  

This forum was set to focus on the Clayton Report and the proposed legislation that the Government was hoping to push through parliament as soon as it could.

It's no secret WorkCover has some major financial problems.  Alan Clayton's job in this review was to look for ways of getting the scheme back on track and hopefully toward a more stable future.  I think it's fair to say we ALL want that.  The concern now is of course whether the proposed changes to the Workers Compensation Act will in fact achieve the desired result?  What I took away from this forum was that it raised many more questions in my mind than it answered.  

When we (VOID) met with Alan Clayton with our submission, it was clear that the scheme could not afford to give us all that we were asking for.  It has however addressed some important aspects of short comings and that in itself will make a difference to how families of deceased workers are compensated.  It's a long way from being completely adequate because I still have major issues with this 'no fault' system where negligence of the employer ensures they are wrapped in cotton wool.  That is unacceptable in my opinion and we here at VOID will continue to push for common law rights for workers who are seriously injured or killed due to unsafe work practise.

You know ... going to these forums is an eye opener.  I reckon that the word 'compo' has a really bad connotation.  We've seen those 'compo frauds' on the TV and I wonder whether there's an impression out there that this is what your average injured worker is - a fraud.  I'll be the first to admit that once upon a time, I would have been one of those people who thought compo was a scam - used and abused by lazy people.

And...I think there is an element of abuse in this scheme - in fact I know there is - I think we've all heard of or known someone we think is scamming extra time off work when its not needed.  The problem is, I don't think these people are not the ones that will be affected by this new legislation.  I suspect these guys are the ones that will take a month here and there - maybe two months for a minor strain that needed a couple of days and an aspirin?

My partner Sam and I have had quite a few interesting discussions on the topic of WorkCover.  He worked as Production Manager for a large manufacturing facility for some years.  He does offer some interesting perspectives with some of his experiences.  We've talked about the workers he's had out on 'compo' with relatively minor injuries.  They come in with doctor's certificates requiring several weeks complete rest.  There was other work at the plant they could perform but the Doctor has said - no work.  Okay, fair enough he thinks, but then why is it that a day or so later he'll bump into that 'injury' at the local drinking hole playing a game of pool?  Oops - what happened to that shoulder that was meant to be 100% out of action?  If you can play pool, you can perform light duties at work right?  Hmmm...and what happens when these cases are reported to WorkCover?  Well, not a lot it would seem.

How many relatively minor injuries are over compensated with weeks and weeks of WorkCover costs?  Who is monitoring these claims?  I have to wonder what proportion of the overall claims relate to relatively minor injuries that are dragging out 'time off' for an extra month here and there when it may not be warranted.

Then there's another issue that keeps popping up ... the consulting charges appear much higher when its a WorkCover claim.  Why?  Does the medical profession see justification because WorkCover does not pay its bills in a timely fashion or is this just another way of milking the scheme?

And yet - I can't see where these problems have been addressed in this proposed legislation.  

This push to get workers back to work seems to ignore the claims that are short term holidays because ultimately they do end up back at work reasonably quickly - perhaps not as quickly as they should be but certainly they don't fall into 'long-term' claims.  

So it is the worker with the more serious injury that is the sitting duck in this legislation's firing line - and that bothers me and it should bother everyone.

I met a man called Alex at the forum.  I listened to him speak up the back row and something inside me wanted to explode into a rage of anger.  Alex is obviously someone who has been severely affected by a work accident.  He has no idea what his future holds now.  He was not by any means the only one in that room that you could see was scared and angry.  These people have a right to be angry - and for those of us that have buried a loved one killed at work, there are always those reminders of what might have been had our loved one survived with injuries.  Where would they have been left?

And so that was where my presentation to the forum went ... because I often do wonder what would have become of my son had he lived through his ordeal.  That's been a tough place to go in my own mind ... this realisation - dead or alive - South Australian workers are not valued very highly at all.

Keep reading ... you make up your own mind.