16 February 2015

New State Government Urged to Honour Election Pledge to Overthrow WorkCover Changes

Mark O’Connor
Mark O'Connor

Queensland’s new Government is being urged to give priority to honouring its election campaign pledge to scrap tough workers’ compensation scheme law changes implemented by the LNP.

Brisbane compensation law expert Mark O’Connor said changes to the WorkCover scheme, introduced in October 2013, imposed a five per cent threshold on all common law claims, which effectively shut out a significant percentage of claims by workers injured by their employers’ unsafe work practices.

During the election campaign Labor promised to repeal the changes and he said while the new Government would be facing a busy time implementing new policy, it was crucial not to push the WorkCover issue down the agenda paper.

Mr O’Connor, a Director of Brisbane firm Bennett & Philp Lawyers, welcomed the ALP’s election promise to repeal the changes imposing a threshold on access to common law, and also scrap other changes of the laws which allow a worker’s compensation history to be potentially used against them in future job applications.

He said the 2013 changes imposed restrictions that shut out many legitimate claims. While Labor vowed to scrap them, the LNP refused to review them.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance put pressure on both parties for their stance on the laws, citing WorkCover estimates that nearly half of all people injured in unsafe workplaces in Queensland now have no right to damages,” he said.

Mr O’Connor said the WorkCover law changes encouraged some employers to cut corners on workplace safety, in the knowledge that only the more serious injuries to their employees will exceed the threshold to allow victims to sue a negligent employer.

Injured Queensland workers deserve to be protected by their state government, not penalised by it,”

Mr O’Connor urged the new State Government to urgently revise the WorkCover laws and roll back the 2013 changes.

“The five per cent threshold has had a significant impact on claims with anecdotal reports of an up to 70 per cent reduction in common law claims.

This has had a devastating impact on those injured due to the negligence of employers,” he said.

“In particular cutting those claims out of the system has a devastating impact on the earning capacity of those shut out. For example someone with a hand injury could suffer lifelong earning consequences but with no hope of a claim for damages against a negligent employer,” he said.

Mr O’Connor said nurses were a classic example of the affected. Soft tissue damage claims will likely not exceed the threshold but the injury could mean the injured nurse could not do heavier lifting work which would significantly affect the nurse’s employability.

“If the claim can’t be lodged then the victim can’t get redress, now or later,” he added.

Mr O’Connor said the realisation that errant employers could be protected against compensation claims by the amended legislation had wide-ranging implications especially in the building and mining industries.

“The system as it stands with the 2013 WorkCover amendments allows employers to take a calculated risk that injuries assessed at five per cent impairment or less will not be covered and so the employer will escape liability,” he said.

The cruelty of the 2013 legislation is that it shows that human pain and suffering is regarded as being less important than commercial losses. If a government was to legislate to prevent business from using the legal system to pursue losses caused the actions of a third party there would be an outcry from the business lobby.”

“Why are losses to hardworking Queensland men and women less important than losses suffered by business?” he asked.

“The incoming State Government should pay urgent and close attention to our WorkCover system and roll back the 2013 changes.

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