The proposed changes in the Return to Work (Permanent Impairment Assessment) Amendment Bill have generated impassioned debate, with opponents of the Bill decrying the significant impact on injured workers if the Bill was to pass, and supporters of the Bill warning about increased costs to businesses if the Bill does not pass.
The Law Society represents a broad spectrum of legal practitioners who act for both plaintiffs and insurers, and can therefore examine the Bill from a range of perspectives. While the Society does not offer a position on the merits of the intention behind the the Bill, it does strongly hold the following views:
- As a matter of principle, the workers compensation scheme should exist first and foremost to look after injured workers. Of course the scheme needs to be viable, but measures to mitigate costs should not result in workers being inadequately compensated for their losses.
- It is essential that the Government engages in extensive consultation with all relevant stakeholders on the Bill, and stakeholders are presented with evidentiary material that the Government has relied upon for its proposed reforms.
- Consultation must include rigorous discussion and deep consideration of whether the consequences for injured workers as a result of any proposed reforms are just.
- Consultation should also involve a holistic examination all facets of the Return to Work scheme with a view to identifying any improvements that ought to be made to enhance the operation of the scheme and ensure that it fulfills its core functions of protecting injured workers and helping injured workers re-enter the workforce in an appropriate manner, while keeping costs at an acceptable level.
What has been missing from the debate so far is a detailed analysis on the precise impacts of the Bill on injured workers. In the Society’s view, it is important that any discussion on the merits of proposed reforms is informed by an understanding of how injured workers will fare under any changes. To assist with the discussion, the Society has prepared three case studies (below) which compare the entitlements of injured workers under the current law against what their entitlements would be under the Bill as currently proposed.
The Society also warns that the transitional provisions in the Bill are likely to cause significant problems. The proposed provisions say that any injured worker whose final impairment assessment happens on or after 1 January 2023 will be subject to the new legislation. If the Bill were to pass in its current form, the consequences of these provisions would be:
- Many workers who have sustained injuries well before the new legislation is enacted would nonetheless be subject to the new legislation and its revised compensation regime. In fact almost every injured worker who has had surgery this year would not be eligible to apply for compensation under the current scheme.
- As many workers would be facing a significant reduction in compensation under the new legislation, there will inevitably be a rush to receive assessments before 2023, which will cause considerable delays and bottlenecks in the system.
The Society submits that any transitional provisions should be based on the date that the injury occurred.
Click here to view three case studies comparing compensation under the current law versus the proposed changes.
JUSTIN STEWART-RATTRAY, PRESIDENT, LAW SOCIETY OF SA
Read the Law Society’s submission on the Return to Work (Permanent Impairment Assessment) Amendment Bill.