HWCA could be influential in Australia’s workers’ compensation reforms

Australia and New Zealand have a small strategic organisation called the Heads of Workers’ Compensation Authorities (HWCA, pronounced “howca” by those in the know).  It is a regular meeting (some say “love-in”, others say “coven”) of the CEOs of the various workers’ compensation bodies in Australia and New Zealand.  Over the next five years, as the Australian Government begins to harmonise/reform the workers’ compensation system, HWCA will be important to watch.

In early October 2009, HWCA met and endorsed a coordination strategy, that has yet to be publicly released.  The main objectives of the strategy were noted in a media release (also not yet publicly available) to mark the latest meeting.

  • “To deliver best practice services to injured workers and employers to assist recovery: and
  • to build sustainable workers’ compensation schemes.”

The terminology of the first objective may provide a good indication of the type of organisation HWCA seems to be.  “Best practice services”???  “Best practice” is one of the worst corporate jargons being used at the moment.  This article at Wikipedia outlines the context of the phrase well.

“As the term has become more popular, some organizations have begun using the term “best practices” to refer to what are in fact merely ‘rules’….”

In other words, HWCA has a strategy to do what its member organisations should have been doing all along – enforcing the rules of good customer service and providing the best level of service to injured workers.

Perhaps it is the second strategic objective that best illustrates the aims of HWCA – to make sure that the workers’ compensation schemes do not lose money.

According to the communique that is released after every meeting (top points for open communication)

“HWCA agreed the Bio-psychosocial Rehabilitation Working Group would develop a national action plan regarding prevention of long-term disability and work loss, which will support the strategy.”

Prevention is the role of the OHS authorities in Australia and the Department of Labour in New Zealand.  Clearly HWCA will be discussing these strategic aims with those in charge of preventing injuries and illnesses.  But can the various WorkCovers and WorkSafes cope with biopsychosocial hazards?  Surely HWCA will also be talking with all the NGOs who lobby on depression, anxiety, fatigue, stress, wellness, happiness ………….. (Get ready for even more influence for BeyondBlue)

Consultation will also be needed with the various government departments involved with health promotion, public and occupational.  Not to mention the unions, employer associations and health professional bodies.

A strategy of such magnitude would require considerable resources and horse-trading through government ranks in all jurisdictions.  It is hard to see this being achieved through a meeting of Chief Executive Officers, and should such a strategy be pushed through individual workers’ compensation bodies anyway?

To achieve true reform of workers’ compensation and to resist the substantial pressure that is likely to come from the Australian and international insurance companies, the Australian government is going to need considerable negotiating skills.  Because of the involvement with the financially influential insurance companies, it is doubtful the intended reforms will be achieved. (HWCA already has discussions with the “Heads of Compulsory Third Party Insurers” according to the communique)

Almost as a post-script, it is noted that Greg Tweedly, CEO of WorkSafe Victoria, takes over the chairmanship of HWCA from the CEO of WorkCover NSW, Jon Blackwell.  Tweedly is a very busy CEO and will become more so, if the rumour proves true that he will be joining the National Board of the Safety Institute of Australia.

As the chairmanship moves from New South Wales, so will HWCA’s administrative support.  The next HWCA meeting is scheduled for 5 February 2010 and will be coordinated through the Victorian Workcover Authority or Comcare.

Kevin Jones

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