Jane* is hoping that the AMWU can defeat major Abbott Government changes to the federal Comcare scheme to spare other injured workers from the ordeal she is being put through.
The AMWU public service member faces being cut off most of her Comcare benefit for a permanent, degenerative illness of her nervous system. She needs regular intensive exercises supervised by a specialist trainer just to keep her moving freely enough so she can work.
“The cause was work-related, they accept that, they know my condition is not stable but they won’t accept my need for ongoing therapy to keep my body functioning,” she said.
“They send me to specialists, which costs thousands more but can’t offer a cure. There is none.
“I feel Comcare is doubting my honesty, trying to intimidate people already suffering to get them off their books and I think these changes to the law might be the next step to formalise that.”
She’s talking about Abbott Government’s deceptively-named Improving Comcare Scheme Bill which will harshly wind-back existing Comcare benefits, risking leaving thousands of long-term injured in potential poverty unless they try to prematurely return to their workplace.
It’s a catch-22 choice which could affect many AMWU members in the public service areas and also in Border Express and John Holland companies.
Unions are working to kill the bill in the Senate, and are making a submission to a Senate Inquiry.
Industrial Relations Minister Eric Abetz’s Improving Comcare Scheme Bill will:
- Slash the compensation to most workers with a permanent impairment by over half
- Crank up the pressure to go back to work by cutting payments, regardless of your condition
- Narrow the definitions of injuries. It gives Comcare staff powers to deny compensation if they conclude an injured worker could have possibly suffered a similar injury at “about the same time” of their life or “the same stage” of life.
- Allow Comcare to let the employer judge whether an injured worker is complying with rehabilitation and if not satisfied, cancel their benefits.
- Reduce access to household help and attendant care
Union OH&S Co-ordinator Deborah Vallance said Comcare’s return to work rates were better than any state scheme but the cost of paid claims had climbed by a third and the value of its assets had fallen below its liabilities.
To save costs, Senator Abetz had decided to “squeeze the injured workers”.
Jane says Comcare is being encouraged to help Budget bean-counters rather than do what it exists for – help employees hurt at work return to their jobs healthy, with dignity.
“They’re trying to break someone who is already broken, so I will cost them nothing.”
(* "Jane" is a pseudonym to protect this union member)