Concern about workplace cover for older workforce
- Date: April 6, 2015
Workplace injuries are set to rise as a result of the expected increase in the number of people working past the age of 65, raising concern about cuts to workers’ compensation schemes around the country and pressure on welfare services, lawyers warn.
The Australian Lawyers Alliance said the federal government’s intergenerational report predicted the proportion of workers older than 65 will grow from 12.9 per cent to 17.3 per cent by 2051. The former Labor government raised the retirement age from 65 to 67 by 2023 and federal Treasurer Joe Hockey has said Generation X Australians might have to keep working until they are 70.
ALA national president Andrew Stone said cuts in benefits to injured workers through state-based workers’ compensation schemes around the country, particularly in NSW, could have long-term consequences for a rapidly ageing workforce.
“If the government expects people to work longer, where does it expect that these people will receive support if they are injured?” Mr Stone said.
“An ageing worker is more likely to suffer a non-serious workplace injury and fall into a lower category of coverage, potentially receiving less support or even being denied workers’ compensation medical and income benefits.
“This is particularly the case in heavy industries, where it will be physically difficult for people to work longer, as well as in less physically demanding workplaces.”
The increased risk meant a long-term vision was needed to support injured workers, Mr Stone said.
The introduction of a no-fault National Injury Insurance Scheme meant state-based workers compensation schemes were being reviewed, he said.
“Eligibility criteria for the [National Disability Insurance Scheme] and [National Injury Insurance Scheme] will likely mean that people injured at work would be unable to access these schemes for support to a significant degree.
“If these people are also denied access to workers’ compensation, it will mean that their only means of support could be under the Disability Support Pension, Centrelink or Medicare. This has already been seen in NSW.
“It is important that governments resist such pressures to raise thresholds, reduce caps and remove lump-sum commutations as a short-term fix.”
The intergenerational report suggested the proportion of taxpayers was declining as part of the ageing population, he said. By 2055, the number of people aged between 15 to 64 would be only 2.7 times greater than the number aged 65, compared to 4.5 times greater today.
“The choices that state and territory governments make now about how they fund the NIIS could have resounding impacts when considering a long-term vision for how we care for older Australians in decades to come.
“If states take the easy option and simply raise damage thresholds now to pay for no-fault catastrophic insurance, the damage will be extensive.”
A spokeswoman for WorkCover said the system was designed to be fair and affordable and to assist injured workers to return to work. She said WorkCover was looking at the demographic trends and workplace impacts of an ageing workforce.
People injured after they reach retirement age are currently entitled to weekly payments for 12 months after an injury that leaves unable to work.
Seriously injured workers with more than 30 per cent whole person permanent impairment receive medical treatment rehabilitation and support benefits related to their injury for life.
“The workers’ compensation scheme’s chief purpose is to support injured workers to return to work by encouraging employers to make alternative duties or changes in duties to help their recovery in the workplace. This approach is more important for older workers, as their place of employment is often their key social and community outlet,” the spokeswoman said.
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