On Friday the Sydney Morning Herald ran an article about a injured worker in the Comcare system who took a request for retraining to the Administrative Decision Tribunal and lost. The head line read “Public Servant Demands $100,000 uni degree”. It was another bash the worker article and however right or wrong the request was in the first instance isn’t something I am going to be debating here. -apart from there being no article about the hundreds of times the ADT has awareded training costs to injured workers that Cocare amongst other insurers have tried to knock back
What I was wanting to do is spark a bit of a debate. In NSW as in Comcare there are funds available for re-training, in one sense the money iCare can access to retraining is limitless- yes it can afford to pay for a $100,000 uni degree and we know of cases where it has paid for uni degrees.
The problem is there are other programs that are very limited and these are controlled by the insurers who are extremely limited in their outlook for re-training injured workers. We know of instances where:
- Training was withheld until the injury deteriorated to the point where the injured worker could no longer participate.
- Re-training as a security guard was offered to an injured worker who could not meet the physical requirements of the position (time and time again).
- Money to renew a industry licence was knocked back and retraining to obtain that licence again was also knocked back.
It has been obvious to me over the past three years that insurers are more than reluctant to retrain injured workers to the point where knocking training back is part of their core business strategy. but what if that wasn’t the case? What would constitute appropriate re-training?
Lets start with another concept. “Retaining”. Retaining the skills an injured worker had pre-injury should be a top priority for insurers and rehabilitates it gives the injured worker the best chance to return to the workforce in an industry or with the same employer.
Retaining has to involve paying for the appropriate licences and certificate renewals. for instance, the IWSN has assisted four nurses who have lost their nursing registration because they either could’t afford to renew at the time or their injuries caused them to be de-registered while they were injured. The insurer refused to pay for the renewals Without those certificates, those four nurses would have had to retrain to qualify to do the job they had been trained to do in the first place (escalating the rehabilitation cost right there), in three of those cases the insurer refused to do even this, meaning the person who had been injured while providing a nursing service to the public, was denied access to their profession by the insurer who just didn’t want to fork out $150 a year while they were injured. -BTW its even harder if we include students who have been injured during their professional practices -they can loose their degrees and their chance at a profession but they don’t fall under workers compensation.
The more common one is the Work, Health & Safety certificates & tickets of the building & transport industries -forklift licences, truck licences, heights, crane operations the list goes on and they are expensive to someone on 80% of what is a very small base wage (most construction workers get by with the add on wages such as overtime and safety money.
Keeping skills up to date is another form of retraining and this should be instinctually provided to injured workers who are having to spend some time away from the workplace due to their industry (longer than three months? what do you think?)
So at the very least someone who is injured because of a workplace incident should have the expectation that that workplace (through their workers comp insurer) keep their professional certification up to date.
What About Re-Training then?
There is a feel good statement some institutions love about people with disabilities “It’s all in the attitude” which is nice but not realistic. An acquired disability places restrictions on the person that were not there pre-injury (the very definition of an acquired disability). That being the case even if someone was to return to the same job as before, some retraining will be needed to adjust to the new circumstances. With many people though it will require more than just an adjustment. it will require re-training into a new or varied position, and one in which that person is probably not fully matched through their past employment experience.
Re-training needs to be a part of this equation, just sending someone to a room and telling them to look for 10 jobs a week does absolutely nothing to improve their situation (statistics show that job seekers are just as likely to find a job without the direct assistance from a job agency as with) if that isn’t accompanied by an new reason to hire.
Look at it this way: Apple comes up with a new iPhone each year, slightly improved on the last years model, to make sure people retain interest in their product. job seeking is like this as well, if two candidates are the same, the employer will go with the one that appears to be slightly improved on the alternative candidate (it’s a bit more complex than that but not by much).
Re-training is the key to the improvement, and if this can happen in the same industry then we end up with a candidate with both experience and new skills (incidentally this is the main argument employers use when confronted by the “agism” argument, saying that younger people are more easily retrained. Re-train and you prove this wrong)
So we can agree that re-training is important, but what about the costs?
This is where we come back to the word “compensation”. Compensation means to restore an injured party to their former position (ok not 100% in today’s law but we’ll go with that). If your injury isn’t long lasting this is entirely possible, as long as your boss hasn’t fired you because you were injured because of their action or inaction. If its an acquired disability then this is harder to do. Re-training is how this can be assisted though, and not just wasted training like security guards stuff is for most people (I’m not knocking security guard work its important but it is more complicated than our collective imagination gives it and should be seen as such by insurers and rehabilitators).
Re-Training needs to be meaningful, and not tokenistic. It should improve someones life not just fill in the forms and get them out of the house.
It has to fit the person.
Take a Surgeon injured at their workplace to the point where they can’t operate anymore (hand injury). Is retraining them to be a security guard anything like compensation? We should be applying the same logic here as with anyone injured at work, the only reason why someone doesn’t is a cultural prejudice that says manual workers are less deserving than professionals.
So take a manual worker, injured on the job to the extent that they can not go back to work at that position, re-training should be provided, at whatever cost, to ensure they have the skills necessary to find alternative work, or even an alternative career at least as relevant and as rewarding than the one they were forced to leave.
This is the point that the commentary on the article that was mentioned at the beginning of this opinion piece. The question for me is not whether a $100,000 payout for a career change was justifiable because of the amount of money involved, or that some people saw it as the injured worker “improving themselves” (what the problem is with that I will never know). It is whether the course the injured worker was requesting was justifiable compensation for the loss of a profession or a career caused by an injury sustained at work. If a career as a lawyer is a reasonable alternative, and to undertake this the injured worker would need to complete a three-four year degree, then that should have been authorised. Alternatively If accessing the persons pre-injury career is a possibility then maybe the decision made by the insurer was the correct one.
The point is this, retaining and re-training (even in the same industry same job) should be a stock standard approach to any rehabilitation of an injured worker who is facing time away from their workplace and adjustments when they get back to the workforce. It should meet the physical, mental and economic needs of the injured work as a normal response to the injury being compensated. It shouldn’t be subject to the business models of the financial institutions that enact our workers compensation system in NSW (or anywhere else) and it should ever retain or improve peoples changes to find jobs- what ever that cost is going to be.