Victoria’s workers compensation scheme, also known as ‘WorkCover’, provides a range of entitlements to people who are injured at work under the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013 (Vic). Entitlements include ‘weekly payments’ for loss of income if they are unable to work and payment of the reasonable costs of medical treatment and other rehabilitative services directly related to their injury.
In 2016, the Ombudsman investigated WorkSafe and its agents, focussing on agents’ management of ‘complex claims’. These claims involve workers who were unable to work long term and/ or required long term medical treatment. While these claims do not represent the majority, research has shown that these workers are likely to have complex health conditions and represent a substantial and disproportionately high cost to the scheme and broader society.
The investigation found cases of unreasonable decision making on complex claims across all five agents, the evidence of which the Ombudsman said was ‘too strong to be explained away as a few “bad apples’’’. This included numerous examples of agents ‘cherry-picking’ evidence to support a decision, while disregarding overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In many cases, agents were found to defend unreasonable decisions when injured workers disputed them, despite knowing they would likely be overturned.
In May 2018, the Ombudsman decided to conduct a ‘follow-up’ investigation to examine whether the implementation of the recommendations from the 2016 investigation had improved agent practices and decision making and the effectiveness of WorkSafe’s oversight.
Nothing short of wholesale changes to the system will address the issues identified by both the 2016 investigation and the current one. The Ombudsman therefore recommends that the Victorian Government;
- commission an independent review of the agent model to determine how and by whom complex claims should be managed
- introduce a new dispute resolution process which allows for binding determinations on the merits of claim decisions; is inexpensive; and provides timely outcomes.