Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Women's Experience of the Workers Compensation System

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Women's Experience of the Workers Compensation System

Article excerpt

Introduction

Published literature revealed that not only has occupational health and safety issues for women been neglected but studies of workers' compensation and workplace injuries and diseases have largely ignored women's experiences (Bale 1989; Cameron 1994; Cooper & Faulks 1999; Quinlan 1996; and Shackelford, Farley, & Vines 1998). A research study was completed in 2003 to seek to help redress this problem by focusing on women's experiences with the workers' compensation system. In addition to highlighting women's experiences, the research aimed to assist in making women visible to service providers, policy makers and the wider community.

In Queensland, Australia the workers compensation system began in 1916. It was not until 1996 that the Kennedy Inquiry brought about the first comprehensive look at this system. The impetus for this inquiry was due to the workers' compensation system being in the red for two hundred and ninety million dollars (Kennedy, 1996). The major response to the inquiry was the introduction of the WorkCover Act 1996 and the tightening of the eligibility criteria. Examples of reductions in the availability of financial support to claimants included: The definition of a worker was narrowed to exclude non-PAYE employees (PAYE tax payers are those whose employer deducts PAYE tax from the amount paid under the Commonwealth Income Tax Assessment Act 1936) and journey claims were downscaled. This alone was estimated to save thirteen million dollars per year. Kennedy did recommend that negligent employers be made responsible for injuries (in terms of payments) and recommended an increase in the lump sum payment from one hundred thousand dollars to one hundred and thirty thousand dollars.

The Legal and Accounting Management Seminars (1997) adopted the view that this narrowing of definitions was used to reduce the number of people who could claim workers' compensation. Glaser and Laster (1990) supported this view when they declared that individual worker's are scapegoats for the costs and rorts of the workers compensation scheme. The cost saving strategies throw into question whether reasonable levels of benefits for injured/ill workers can be maintained at the same time. To some degree this is also dependent upon what one believes the workers compensation role is.

WorkCover provides financial support for injured workers (such as medical and treatment costs, hospitalization costs, traveling expenses and weekly compensation payments), lump sum payments for permanently injured workers, insurance for employers, oversees employers who self-insure and observes the 1997 Regulations for the WorkCover Act of 1996. Although WorkCover is the organisational body within Queensland it also operates within the workers compensation system or processes. This system includes such factors as the legislative framework, the organisation (WorkCover), the employees and agents of the organisation, and the processes established by the legislation (as interpreted by WorkCover).

Inherent within the workers compensation system is values and assumptions. WorkCover is not a neutral institution. Under the Queensland system workers receive eighty-five percent of their normal weekly earnings for the first twenty-six weeks. After this time the rate decreases. Why are individual's compensated at a lower rate? The Industry Commission (1994) indicates that compensation is less than pre-injury earnings to provide an incentive for workers to return to work, to encourage rehabilitation and to encourage workers to behave in a safety conscious way at work. These assumptions demonstrate the belief that workers are responsible and in control of workplace accidents (rather than employers). WorkCover presupposes that individuals will eventually return to work. It acts as a safety net until such time as individuals can either resume work or pass onto welfare benefits. It does not cope well with individuals with permanent, long-term or multiple disabilities/illness. …

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