Emma Reynolds (news.com.au 9 November 2017)writes about the impact that the change to workers compensation in New South Wales will have on injured workers, who face the prospect of of losing income support.
It’s going to be a bleak Christmas for thousands of injured employees who are set to be thrown off workers’ compensation support on Boxing Day.
For Anthony McGarrell, 54, it is the final insult after a decade of agony. He has no idea how he will survive after that, and is set to lose his rented home, his car and his dignity — again.
Mr McGarrell, from Sussex Inlet on the New South Wales south coast, used to work in the entertainment industry, until he suffered a double hernia while moving a piece of staging for Channel 9 in 2007.
He now endures chronic pain and cannot walk without a frame. He typically wakes every two hours at night, and even sitting down sends sharp pains through his pelvis and spine.
“I have bladder and bowel damage,” he told news.com.au. “I have to be careful getting into bed.
“I get severe pain attacks that literally cripple me to the ground.”
Despite that, Mr McGarrell has tried many times to return to work in the entertainment industry, spending time after his injury in an office job organising studio rostering and satellite play-out services.
The 54-year-old lives with chronic pain and has had multiple surgeries.Source:Supplied
But steady work has proven out of reach for the former scriptwriter, with repeated surgery defeating his efforts. “If you want to know how hard it is to return to work, get injured,” he said. “By the time I’d had seven hernias, no one would touch me with a barge pole.
As a result of 2012 reforms in NSW, injured workers will lose their entitlement to compensation once they have received 260 weeks of payments, whether consecutive or not, if their injuries are assessed to be less than 21 per cent.
Many will also lose medical benefits. Under the old laws, they would have had support until the age of 65.
For Mr McGarrell, who has been assessed at wildly different levels by various doctors, this is simply a way for insurance companies to avoid paying up. Instead, he will have to turn to Centrelink, who are likely to refer him on to Disability Support Pension.
When his current payments are terminated, Mr McGarrell will lose up to 66 per cent of his income. What’s left will barely cover his rent or lifelong medical expenses. Right now, he doesn’t know what future lies ahead after Christmas.
“The unpredictability of it makes life a compromise,” he explained. “You stop socialising because you know you look like crap. The last thing you want to do is talk about workers’ compensation.
“The added stress does increase my level of pain and its frequency. Losing 20 kilograms over six operations over ten years has savaged my body. I’m highly embarrassed about my current looks.
“I can’t afford to go anywhere. I’m locked into poverty. It’s the first time in my life I’ve had to live in poverty. It’s embarrassing. I feel like I’ve failed.”
Mr McGarrell — who now suffers from depression and post traumatic stress disorder on top of his physical ailments — is hoping he will be reassessed as above the 21 per cent injured mark and have his payments reinstated.
He has obtained representation from Shine Lawyers, but says the reform is a “multifaceted c***-up” that will affect many people who can’t afford to complain.
Greens MP David Shoebridge, who is calling for the changes to be scrapped, this afternoon organised an injured workers’ forum at Parliament House to discuss the cuts to compensation, playing a video featuring Mr McGarrell and others affected by the law change. “No one chooses to be injured at work,” said Mr Shoebridge. “If you are injured, you deserve respect, fair compensation and lifetime medical support.”ed
Shine Lawyers NSW general manager, James Chrara said Mr McGarrell’s experience was “salt on the wounds” for a man who has tried repeatedly to grit his teeth through the pain and make a living.
“He will never have a day without pain,” said Mr Chrara. “There is no job that allows or accommodates for this level of injury, yet he is practically being put on trial for something out of his hands.
“It’s an awfully painful and traumatic way to spend the holiday period, knowing that your finances will spiral you into below-the-line poverty.”
“The government should exist to help the injured rather than permanently cripple them.”
A NSW government spokesperson told news.com.au: “The previous scheme was simply unsustainable and heavily in debt. Changes similar to those that were passed in NSW in 2012 already exist in other states. Every impacted worker has been contacted and provided with customised support.
“The majority of workers injured in NSW return to work within 5 years. We are committed to providing injured workers with the support they need to return to work. Where it’s not possible for a person to return to work and they no longer qualify for workers compensation weekly payments, the Government has introduced support measures to assist in the transition to other arrangements.
“The State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) has contacted all insurers recommending that those workers ceasing entitlement over the Christmas and New Year period be offered the opportunity to receive their final weekly payments in advance.”