An independent review into South Australia’s workers compensation scheme has been warned the scheme is discriminatory and discourages people with a mental illness from seeking help.
- An independent review into workers compensation has been given to the South Australian Government
- Key stakeholders are worried the scheme is harsh, inappropriate and discriminates against mental illness
- Public servants have special deals their unions have negotiated
The review into the Return to Work scheme is considering how workers compensation is faring after significant changes were introduced by the former government in 2015.
It is understood former Federal Court Justice John Mansfield AM QC completed the review this month and has provided his report to government.
Submissions by key stakeholders, including the Minister’s Advisory Committee, the Law Society of SA, the Australian Medical Association and the Police Association cautioned about the scheme’s treatment of mental illness, with a prior experience of mental illness impacting on a current claim.
Australian Medical Association chief executive Joe Hooper warned that the Return to Work scheme was benefitting from discriminatory rules that deter people with a psychological injury from putting in claims for compensation.
He warned these rules were counter to national mental health initiatives to encourage people to seek help.
“In practice, if a worker has a prior psychiatric history, which could include say postnatal depression which would not impact on a future psychiatric illness, then their claim is disallowed,” the AMA submission said.
“I have been told that many general practitioners would not even put in the claim and would advise workers not to.
“Although this has undoubtedly helped the financial state of RTWSA, I believe strongly that this sort of discrimination is directly opposite to the objectives of the National Mental Health Plan and beyondblue to destigmatise mental illness and encourage people to visit doctors if they have a mental health problem.”
Dr Michelle Atchison, the presiding member of the Minister’s Advisory Committee, wrote in her submission that there had been a “notable decline in claims for psychiatric illness” since the introduction of the new scheme.
The committee also raised concerns over the rare use of independent medical advisors to determine medical issues, and concerns injured workers were putting off surgery because of fears their entitlement to compensation could cease.
Police officers took their campaign against changes to workers injury compensation to the steps of Parliament (ABC News: Nick Harmsen)
Special deals for public servants
The Police Association said the Return to Work laws needed “fundamental change” with the two-year cut-off for compensation not based on an assessment about an inability to work.
“The Return to Work Act is extremely harsh and fundamentally inappropriate legislation,” they said.
“Ceasing medical-expense compensation based on arbitrary timeframes was, and remains, uncalled for and unjustified.”
The police union’s submission said that while there was a reduction in disputes under the new scheme, it was a “triumph of form over substance” because efficiency was seen as more important than fairness in compensating people injured at work.
After hundreds of police officers campaigned against the scheme, in 2016 the group negotiated an agreement with the former Labor government to extend the compensation available for officers injured at work, costing taxpayers about $2.2 million per year.
In his submission, Law Society SA president Tim Mellor warned that other public sector unions were also negotiating with the Government to “effectively reinstate compensation levels” under the previous workers compensation scheme, WorkCover.
This was creating a two-tier system between the public sector and private sector, with public servants entitled to more compensation, he said.
It’s understood public servants including police, firefighters, transport workers and ministerial chauffeurs have or are in the process of inserting a new clause in their awards to include additional compensation on top of the Return to Work scheme.
The Return to Work scheme was introduced by the former Labor government to save businesses up to $200 million a year, dropping the average premium for employers from 2.75 per cent to 1.95 per cent.
The changes meant the former pension-for-life model under the WorkCover scheme was scrapped, replacing it with a two-year limit for work accident compensation, except for claims involving more serious ongoing injuries.
The South Australian Government has not provided a response to questions about the review.