THE INSURANCE industry has “conned” the Western Australian Government into passing a “disastrous” Workers Compensation Reform Bill in the Upper House, according to a local lawyers’ association.
In an interview with Lawyers Weekly recently, Australian Lawyers Alliance WA branch president Greg Burgess said the Bill, passed last week, will be a disaster for lawyers, who would be led back to WorkCover, resulting in low remuneration or “bargain basement rates”.
The new WA laws are a “knee jerk” reaction to the myth promoted by insurers that legal reform is needed to ease the insurance crisis in the State, according to the WA branch of the Alliance.
The law “seriously compromises the rights of working people in favour of insurance company mega profits”, Burgess said.
“Many seriously injured workers will not have the right to sue for damages and will be restricted to claiming statutory weekly benefits.”
“The 15 per cent bodily harm impairment threshold in the new scheme means that a worker who, for example, loses an arm because their boss removed safety equipment to cut costs, would get nothing for their pain and trauma and will have limited compensation for medical expenses and lost wages,” Burgess said.
Similar tort reforms in NSW have received criticism from the legal profession in that State. The Chief Justice of the NSW Supreme Court, James Spigelman, recently told a conference in Sydney that insurers had convinced the Carr Government there should be mechanisms in place to dismiss people who need compensation. He was also critical of the 15 per cent whole body impairment requirement.
Meanwhile, the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) has asked lawyers to be patient, arguing that any changes to tort reform would be “short-sighted and not in the community’s best interests”.
“There has not been enough time for the reforms to work their way through the legal system,” ICA executive director Alan Mason said recently. “Any premature move to roll back these changes and the resulting uncertainties would again create doubt in insurers’ minds and lead to disruption in the market.”
The managing director of the Insurance Commission of WA, Vic Evans, reportedly told newspapers “that private insurers should be locked out of the Workers Compensation system and that it be run on a not-for-profit basis”, Burgess said. The Lawyers Alliance supported this view, he added.
“The Lawyers Alliance has been lobbying the Government to adopt a system similar to that in Queensland, which both protects workers’ rights and provides employers with the lowest premiums in the country.”