Once again my congratulations to Rosemary and the WIRC for putting together another Forum for the benefit of South Australia's injured workers. Nick Xenophon did a great job in keeping the flow consistent and the catering volunteers need to be congratulated on a superb spread.
The numbers are definitely growing at these gatherings and while there was still plenty of raw emotion and anger, it was encouraging to see people remain calm and concise as they expressed their views and told their stories. I would be the first to admit that the Forum I attended and spoke at in August 2006 was quite heated and at times I felt became a tad hostile. While I understand the enormity of this issue, I can't listen to scathing personal attacks or people screaming above others. It achieves nothing. This forum was very different.
I think the loudest message in that room was a very quiet gentleman who sat midway in the centre row with a walking stick. When he did eventually say something it came quietly and with very few words. I doubt there was one person in that room who did not feel the power of his message and the torment he has dealt with due to his injuries.
There's little doubt about the breakdown in the performance of the organisation - but I suspect what really remains a bone of contention is the solution.
There were representatives from WorkCover there and I think these people are to be commended for attending in the face of what could be a very hostile environment. I am of the opinion that there are very good people employed by this organisation and the word 'employed' needs to be reiterated. These people don't make the rules, they follow the word of the legislation - as they are legally obliged to do. It's pretty evident to someone like me that they could just as easily have stayed at home to watch the Grand Final. So I think that speaks volumes ...
And let's be really clear about this, when it comes to fixing this mess, we need to understand where our energy should be targeted.
People change legislation - not corporations, not the employees within these organisations - and not even really the Governments. It's the people who apply the pressure on the Government that creates the legislation. The people (the worker) have a mighty opponent in the opposing business and employer lobby. We also have the insurance companies painting gloom and doom pictures with their own lobby. But when it's all done and dusted, we have to realise that the every day folk who work for a living and who take to the polling booth outnumber these groups a hundred to one. Somewhere along the line we have to get organised to the point where a million voices become one.
Back to the Forum.
Mitch Williams (LIB) Shadow Industrial Relations spoke about his concerns but didn't go as far as talking about Liberal policy with regard to Workers Compensation - and having some understanding of the LIBS general allegiance with business and employer lobbies, I'm not convinced any policy made under this party would do much to assist the plight of the injured worker. Clearly though the presence of Mitch Williams says something about the man. From my perspective and irrespective of Liberal Party policy, he as an individual appears to show great empathy for the plight of those stuck on the WorkCover roundabout.
Just a side note and I think an important one, there was no sign of any one from the LABOR Government which I found very disappointing. Surely there was just one party member who thought enough of the seriousness of this issue to attend?
Possibly the most significant presence from the injured worker's point of view was Alan Clayton. This gentleman is one of (if not THE) key people heading up the independent review into WorkCover's operations. As a result of his presence, people that may not ordinarily have had a chance to be heard, were heard. He sat quietly in the audience and took notes. He didn't have to be there either - but he chose to be and what that tells me is that this man is looking at every angle of the scheme.
One that I hope comes to light from this review is something I am 100% in favour of and will lobby hard to see reintroduced - and that is the right to common law for seriously and fatally injured workers where negligence is the cause.
I listened to Kevin Purse address the Forum and it was only then that I realised that Victoria had reinstated the right to common law action by seriously injured workers.
Actually I found Kevin Purse a very interesting speaker. It is my understanding that Kevin was once on the WorkCover Board. He is also a rather learned expert on OHS and Workers Compensation. He offered a very compelling argument supporting the plight of the injured worker. His damning comments of WorkCover's Submissions were heard loud and clear.
I spoke to Kevin after the Forum. Listening to Kevin I realised (and was comforted somewhat) that my personal theories on OHS legislation runs on a similar track. I do sometimes worry that I have a skewed perspective because of my emotional investment, but in talking to Kevin, I see that it's not as complicated (as so many of those opposing tougher penalties) would have us believe.
Other speakers included Robin Shaw from SISA (Self Insurers of South Australia) and Nadia Zivkovic, (Public Service Association) who spoke about the brick walls encountered through the rehabilitation of injured workers. Phil Moir also offered plenty of food for thought in his talk. The figures he talked about here seem to contradict many of WorkCover's which leads me to wonder just where the truth lies. Clearly there is disagreement here - I guess someone like me would like a no nonsense response from the organisation or someone to either counteract or concede.
I also was offered the opportunity to address the Forum on behalf of VOID and fatally injured workers. You can read what I had to say by clicking the tag at the top of this page.
All in all a big congratulations to WIRC for another successful Forum.