The Victorian government has released the final report of the Legislative Council Economy and Infrastructure Committee’s inquiry into the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (WorkCover Scheme Modernisation) Bill. Many readers will already be asleep after that sentence. Forgive me, it is accurate, but is the report of any use? It certainly progresses the debate on psychosocial regulations.
The Victorian Parliament has been debating legislation the government claims is essential to fix a “broken” workers’ compensation system. There are a lot of elements to what is broken – premium increases, political access to WorkSafe finances, political topping up of WorkSafe finances, high numbers and costs for workplace mental health compensation claims and more. What is largely missing is a discussion on the prevention of mental health injuries at work.
This week the Victorian Government flagged changes to the workers’ compensation premiums and eligibility. This has generated outrage from business lobby groups and the trade unions, and as he is being criticised by both political extremes, Premier Dan Andrews believes his decision, i.e. being hated by everyone, is a winner.
The Age newspaper was one of the first to report (paywalled) on the announcement of these changes on May 19, 2023. Significantly it included a quote from Dr Mary Wyatt on the economic and social importance of injury prevention. Hers has been one of the few mentions of the role of good occupational health and safety (OHS) management.
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Unless you are a teacher, it is difficult to comprehend the extent of stress and pressure teachers can face at school. A recent court case in Queensland involving an appeal against a decision by the Regulator not to accept a workers’ compensation claim provides some insight into the teacher’s lot.
The case, Roberts v Workers’ Compensation Regulator  QIRC 76 (6 March 2023), was won by Ms Karen Roberts as the Commissioner decided that Roberts’ experiences at work, over time, were the major contributor to her post-traumatic stress disorder. There are statements in this decision that the school’s management practices did not worsen her experiences, and there are arguments over the degree of influence of other factors, but there is no occupational health and safety (OHS) perspective here. Even though it is not an OHS prosecution, there is an important OHS context.
One can never accuse politicians of deep or systems thinking on the issues and policies for which they are responsible. Victoria’s Minister for WorkSafe, Danny Pearson, spoke at a press conference on March 6, 2023, about the viability of the workers’ compensation systems, which he described as broken, during a substantial increase in claims for workplace mental injury. Premier Dan Andrews has spoken of this matter since and with a similar perspective – politics rather than occupational health and safety (OHS).
How this issue develops over the next month may determine who speaks for the government at the April 28 Workers Memorial event.
Shortly after Christmas 2022, the Australian Associated Press (AAP) released an article about the financial status of the Victorian Workcover Authority. The article was about a 2020 review of the financial sustainability of the workers’ compensation scheme by insurance and actuarial firm, Finity. This was built upon in a couple of mainstream newspapers.
Occupational health and safety (OHS) is an integral element of social welfare, even though the practitioners of the discipline self-silo. A new Australian book about Australia’s social services uses workers’ compensation and OHS as a case study for a change.
“The Careless State – Reforming Australia’s Social Services” by Mark Considine illustrates the Venn Diagram overlap of public health services, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), aged care services, workplace safety and compensation and more. The book is very timely, as many of the social services essential for social harmony and justice have been neglected over the last decade under various State and Federal conservative governments.