Controversial Workers Compensation Scheme Amendments

On 15 October 2013 the Qld Government proposed radical amendments to the current Qld workers compensation scheme that were strongly opposed by the Qld Law Society, trade unions, plaintiff and insurance lawyers, the opposition government and, of course, employees. These amendments came into effect on 29 October 2013 with the Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2013.

WorkCover Queensland was previously recognised as the fairest and most efficient workers compensation scheme in Australia. In June 2012 the Qld Government commissioned a parliamentary inquiry into the scheme and in May 2013 a 300 page report was released. As was expected, the inquiry made only minor recommendations for the scheme, namely in the area of psychological injuries. However, largely persuaded by industry lobby groups, the government proceeded with its planned amendments notwithstanding the inquiry.

The most significant change is that workers injured after 15 October 2013 can now only sue their employer for compensation if their injury is assessed with a permanent impairment of 6% or above. There was previously no restriction on the right of a worker to sue and the overwhelming majority of current workers compensation litigation involves workers who have been assessed with a permanent impairment of between 0% and 5%. This amendment will result in a noticeable decreased in the number of injured workers entitled to pursue compensation from their employers, despite any gross negligence or breach of statutory duty by their employer. It is, however, likely that there will now be an increase in the number of workers challenging their permanent impairment assessment.

Another hurdle workers with psychiatric injuries will now face is to prove that their employment was “the major significant contributing factor” (previously only a significant contributing factor) to their injury.

There are two other controversial changes worth mentioning. First, all employers now have access to their employee’s WorkCover claims history (previously held only by WorkCover and QComp). The purpose of this amendment is that employers will be better placed to identify fraudulent claims. However, unions and plaintiff lawyers have voiced concerns that this information could be used to discriminate against employees, particularly prospective employees.

Second, QComp has merged with and become part of the Office of Fair and Safe Work Queensland. OFSWQ will now regulate the workers compensation scheme in Qld.

Sunshine Coast Lawyers, Miller Sockhill Lawyers can assist with any litigation or court related matters.