Workers' comp psych laws pass NSW Upper House

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Workers' comp psych laws pass NSW Upper House

Controversial NSW Government changes to the workers' compensation scheme have passed through the Parliament, angering unions which fear certain at-risk workers will have to jump huge hurdles before receiving compensation for psychiatric trauma.

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Controversial NSW Government changes to the workers' compensation scheme have passed through the Parliament, angering unions which fear certain at-risk workers will have to jump huge hurdles before receiving compensation for psychiatric trauma.

Although the NSW Greens moved a disallowance motion on regulations relating to assessing psychological and psychiatric injury, it was defeated 32 votes to five in the Upper House.

IR Minister John Della Bosca says the new laws, which effectively close off common law remedies, mean fewer 'costly and destructive' delays for injured workers, as the court system will be largely bypassed, delivering lump sums to workers without lengthy battles with employers and insurers.

But the secretary of the Labor Council of NSW, John Robertson, said workers who were more at risk of facing psychological traumas after gun-related incidents - including police officers, emergency services workers, bank workers, retail workers, nurses and teachers - will find it harder to meet criteria on a new ratings scale.

The unions have spent the past week lobbying against the Psychiatric Impairment Ratings Scale, and also today expressed disappointment that new Opposition Leader John Brogden had failed to stand up for workers.

The parliamentary debate

The Greens' Lee Rhiannon said the PIRS was 'grossly unfair' to workers, was untested, and that those who suffered psychological trauma because of their work should not be forced onto a lifetime of dependency on the social security system.

Rhiannon outlined three main objections to the PIRS, saying:

  • It deliberately masked the most severe aspects of impairment, thus excluding the worker from lump sum and common law payments;
  • The six categories within the PIRS had been criticised by professional bodies as 'leaving much room for disagreement, being poorly thought out, and overlapping'. She added that it also ignored psychological assessment that could identify injuries such as disruption of memory or thinking speed and ability;
  • The PIR was 'poor science', and was using NSW workers as guinea pigs in a 'massive' and 'unethical' experiment to test the system. 'The Carr Government is exposing workers with psychological injuries to a lottery,' she said. 'In the absence of data that confirms the scale's validity, there is no reason to believe that the scale measures impairment.'

The Democrats' Arthur Chesterfield-Evans, who said pushing people into formulas without taking their individual circumstances into account was 'conceptually flawed', supported her.

However Fred Nile, from the Christian Democratic Party and chair of the committee which is monitoring and reviewing the legislation, called for the motion to be rejected, saying Rhiannon's arguments were 'based on a fallacy'.

IR Minister Della Bosca said he was disturbed by the 'ongoing and disappointing' debate that was clouding public opinion on the scale, which he called a 'massive advance' for psychologically and psychiatrically injured workers.

He said it would be 'almost impossible' for the rating scale to mask the findings of severe or total impairment in some categories, thereby reducing the whole body impairment percentage. Allowing different workers to be assessed under different methods could result in them meeting or not meeting a threshold depending on which assessment method a practitioner happens to prefer, he said.

The Leader of the Opposition in the House, Mike Gallacher, said while the Greens' position was fair, the Opposition would not support their motion as it could cause 'absolute mayhem'.

In reply, Rhiannon said: 'Injured workers who hang out too long with people here will end up with a fairly shabby deal. Bank tellers who have survived a horrific hold-up with a gun held at their heads, police officers who cannot sleep at night because they get up all the time to check on their children and teachers who cannot even go past a school because of a trauma they have suffered cannot expect much compensation after what has happened here today.'

Nile said the committee's final report into the workers' compensation legislation would be tabled in Parliament next week.

 

 

 
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