Volunteer firefighters deserve a better workers compensation scheme, and most other workers do too

18 February 2020

With regards to media reports that the Government has agreed to bolster the compensation scheme for injured volunteer firefighters, the Law Society supports moves to bring entitlements to volunteer firefighters into line with their paid counterparts from the metropolitan area.

Currently, Metropolitan Fire Service firefighters who are injured in the course of duty are eligible for medical payments in relation to an eligible in injury whenever medical expenses are incurred, and eligible for weekly income payments until retirement age.

However, volunteer firefighters (who comprise the majority of CFS members) whose injuries do not reach a whole person impairment assessment of 30% are only eligible at present for a maximum of two years of weekly payments to cover loss of income and three years of medical expenses.

For a number of injured fireys, the extremely high threshold of 30% whole person impairment (WPI) means serious injuries, sustained while protecting lives and defending properties, that force them out of work for more than two years and require medical treatment for their injuries for far beyond three years, are essentially on their own after the cut off periods.

The media reports which have described this “double standard” as an “injustice” highlight the flaws with the current workers compensation regime more broadly, as the limitations of the scheme that apply to volunteer firefighters apply to most South Australian workers.

The biggest victims of the Return to Work Scheme are those who suffer significant work injuries who have not reached the onerous 30% WPI threshold to receive ongoing maintenance, but will not be able to successfully return to work before their entitlements are cut.

While Society supports volunteer firefighters being covered by the same scheme as paid firefighters, and notes some other groups also have separate workers compensation schemes under their own agreements, discussion is needed about how the Return to Work scheme could be reformed to improve outcomes for injured workers more generally, so that “splinter” schemes are not necessary.