In January 2010, Today Tonight in South Australia aired a disturbing report about the workers compensation reforms in that State. It talks to two widows who blame WorkCover SA as contributing to their husbands’ suicides. One man left a suicide note explicitly blaming WorkCover SA, emphasising his point by jumping to his death from the sixth floor of the WorkCover office building.
The video report is available HERE under the title WorkCover Suicide.
One of those interviewed in the story is Kevin Purse who undertook a report into the SA workers’ compensation system on behalf of SA Unions. His report is very useful as it indicates some of the risks to workers’ entitlements that may result from trying to harmonise workers’ compensation across the country. [Editor’s Note: Kevin Purse has identified in a comment below that the report quoted here is from 2007 and that Kevin’s opinion has changed since. We are endeavoring to locate the most recent report and apologise to Kevin and readers] Just as New South Wales unions are insisting that elements of their State’s OHS laws be retained, so business is likely to insist on using the lowest worker benefits as a benchmark for harmonisation.
In the report Purse says
“By any objective standard, South Australia’s lacklustre workers’ compensation performance is attributable to poor management by WorkCover and its former claims agents rather than the level of entitlements available to injured workers. The core problem has been the ongoing failure to manage the rehabilitation and return to work process. It also includes the failure to ensure that employers comply with their return to work obligations. Having said that, WorkCover’s new claims agent EML needs to be given a reasonable opportunity to demonstrate that it is capable of improving the scheme’s performance.” [emphasis added]
It is refreshing to hear someone giving Employers Mutual Limited a fair go. The report emphasises that the SA scheme is faltering because of poor management:
“Attempts to blame injured workers for the scheme’s shortcomings though are no more than a diversion from the real issues. It is all too easy to paper over management cracks by slashing workers’ entitlements. This has explicitly been acknowledged by senior executives of Victoria’s WorkCover Authority who have frequently emphasised the importance of achieving substantial improvements in scheme performance without resorting to cuts in workers’ payments or hikes in employer premiums.
This is the approach that should be adopted in South Australia. ………
There is also merit in reassuring the employer community that the government has no intention of increasing average premium rates in the foreseeable future. …”
The debate on the future of workers’ compensation will continue to jostle between the financial interests of business and the social impact on workers. Workers’ compensation is part of the rehabilitation process and returning workers to a fulfilling job and meaningful work is paramount. But there are going to be workers who will never be able to return to work and it is in this context that workers’ compensation becomes a social security.
As illustrated in one of the examples in the Today Tonight video, being injured at work in an incident not of one’s own fault should not lead to a life of poverty. It seems that the lack of hope of having a meaningful life is what is pushing injured workers to end their lives.