Changes to WorkCover laws: what do they mean for you?

OH&S is no joke. Many Queensland workers are injured each year.

The Queensland Government has made major changes to workers’ compensation laws that will impact many injured AMIEU members and their families.

For a long time, Queensland has had the best WorkCover scheme in Australia – WorkCover’s own Annual Report found it was financially strong and working well for workers and employers, with the lowest premiums in the country over the last 10 years.

Despite this, the State Government passed laws making major changes to the scheme. Unions, lawyers, and even doctors urged the Government not to make these changes because they are unfair and don’t make good financial sense. They were ignored.

This article talks about how the law now says that AMIEU members injured in unsafe workplaces with less than 6% impairment will not be able to claim damages.

 

What is impairment and how is it calculated?

Impairment measures restriction of movement in the part of the body that is injured. A set of American Guides, are used by doctors to calculate the impairment to the body part. Impairment does not measure disability.

 

What is the difference between impairment and disability?

This is best explained using an example.

Sonny and Jane suffer the same injury to their right knee in a work accident. They have the same treatment, and are left with the same permanent problems in their knee. When their compensation claim finishes, they are each assessed as having 5% impairment to the knee and offered the same amount of small lump sum compensation.

So Sonny and Jane have the same impairment. But now consider this:

Sonny is a 43 year old meatworker who left school in grade 9 to join the meatworks. He can’t read and write very well. He is a good meat worker, and is now a boner. The knee injury means he can no longer stand up all day as his knee swells and aches. As he can no longer work the long shifts in the meatworks, his employer sacks him. He has no other skills, and his reading and writing problems mean that he can’t retrain into an easier job. Sonny ends up on the pension. His injury has led to a disability because it has destroyed his ability to work to provide for his wife and kids.

Jane on the other hand is a medical receptionist. She has the same problem as Sonny and cannot stand up for long periods, but she gets to sit down for most of the day at work, so is able to carry on working. Her knee injury has not impacted her ability to work and is not therefore a disability.

So the same injury has had very different effects on the lives on Sonny and Jane.

 

How WorkCover works now

Anyone injured in an unsafe workplace at work before 15 October 2013, can choose whether to accept the small impairment lump sum, or claim damages. Damages is a bigger sum of money that will compensate them for what the injury causes them to lose in wages, superannuation, pain and suffering and so on. The amount of impairment doesn’t matter.

 

How has the law changed?

Workers injured in an unsafe workplace on or after 15 October 2013, will only be able to claim damages if their injuries are assessed at more than 5% impairment. In other words, it must be at least 6% impairment. In the example above, neither Sonny nor Jane can claim damages. This is despite the devastating effect of the injury on Sonny’s life and his ability to work.

 

What does this mean for AMIEU members?

Injuries sustained before 15 October 2013

The law has not changed for workers injured in an unsafe workplace before 15 October 2013 who want to claim damages. Anyone who has suffered a workplace injury, regardless of the date, should speak to the AMIEU to make sure they know their rights.

Injuries sustained after 15 October 2013

If your injury was sustained after 15 October 2013, you are affected by the new laws. More than ever, it’s important that you speak to the AMIEU as soon as possible after you’ve been injured to find out what your rights are and to get good advice quickly.

Even though WorkCover and self-insurers have to assess all injuries from the workplace incident, they often don’t and there will be no chance to have those injuries added in at a later stage. It is crucial therefore that all members injured at work after 15 October 2013 speak to the AMIEU as soon as possible so you can be referred for expert advice to make sure all your injuries are properly accepted and assessed.

Injuries sustained over a period of time

Some injuries don’t happen in one incident. Instead, they are caused over a period of time – usually by heavy duties in the workplace. The law that apply to these injuries is very complicated, and if you first saw a doctor after 15 October 2013, you may be affected by the new changes. Any member who has suffered a work injury by carrying out their duties over a period of time should contact the AMIEU for advice straight away – even if they have not already made a claim for workers’ compensation.

 

I have received a document offering me a lump sum. If the law has changed, should I just take it?

No! The amount of the impairment can always be challenged, and there may be other injuries that can be added to the claim. You need to speak to the AMIEU urgently so they can send you for legal advice. You only have 20 business days to challenge the impairment figure so you need to call us quickly.

 

Legal advice

As a member of the AMIEU you have access to free legal advice from Maurice Blackburn to help you understand how these changes affect you, and help make sure your rights are protected.  Contact your Organiser for a referral.

The changes to WorkCover for workers are wide-ranging, and will have serious impacts for you and your family if you’re injured at work. The AMIEU fought hard against these Government changes, and we will continue to keep fighting on this important issue for our members.