Assisting a member after a workplace injury can be one of the most difficult things a union organiser can do. There is the physical impact of the injury, the emotional impact and also the impact on their workplace and that’s just the start.
This is a short guide to assisting members who have sustained a workplace injury.
Workers compensation is an organising strategy.
Here is the uncomfortable truth. Union members receive help if they have been injured at work. Non-union members are on their own. If you win your members a pay rise, everybody gets it. But if they are injured at work then the unions are the only reliable support. Unions employ WH&S officers, they can intervene with the employer and the insurer if there is a problem they can represent members who are taking matters to the Workers Compensation Commission through their lawyers and individually on the smaller issues the lawyers may not want to touch. Without a union behind them, workers are at the mercy of the insurers, hoping they get a good case manager, a good doctor and a good outcome. The chances are that everyone will bear a work place injury at some time of their lives. So when you are organising non-members tell the about the benefits of joining a union to protect their rights if and when they are injured at the workplace.
Before someone gets injured.
Make sure your workplaces know what type of injuries may occur.
Injuries are rarely surprises, despite that we all think we are invulnerable and pay minimal heed to whether we may be injured at work or not. Using a body mapping exercise or similar assessment can assist you and your members in understanding what types of risks they face beyond the obvious risks work may pose. Psychological risks should also be assessed by your members. There are some great tools available to help you with this and most unions will have these available to them. If not a few quick calls and Internet searches can locate these. Don’t forget that you also have the Workers Health Centre to assist with these.
Make sure you know whom the workers compensation insurer is.
Have this information attached to the site information you hold so that, if and when a member is injured you can direct them to the right insurer. All workplaces need to have this information available to their workers so it shouldn’t be had to find and given the whole system in NSW is going to be with iCare it should be even easier in the coming years.
Let your members know that the first thing to do after they are injured is to get help.
Their health is the most important thing. You should ensure that your members know who the first aid person is, and if possible, encourage all members to do a first aid course (even if this isn’t paid for by the employer, its always useful). Beyond this you need to ensure all your members see the need to seek medical assistance is seen as normal and important. Psychological health can be the hardest one to convince your members that they may need help. You can help this by treating the need for psychological first aid and support as normal (for you as a union organiser as well as for your members).
You should always encourage your members to see their own personal doctor; it doesn’t matter if the company doctor is brilliant or otherwise. Their personal doctor knows the members medical history and this knowledge is powerful when managing an injury.
Medicare provides for six free psychologist or psychiatrist visits per year (on referral by a GP) this is a great resource for your members if there is even a risk of psychological injury.
Prepare yourself and your members to support an injured colleague.
You don’t need an encyclopaedic knowledge of workers compensation laws and processes to do this but you do need to know a few facts, all of which are accessible through the Workers Compensation handbooks on the IWSN website.
Believe the member.
You don’t lose anything by believing the member if they say they were injured at work. You do lose if you don’t believe them (you lose them and potentially lose your reputation at that workplace) the system will conduct an investigation of your members claim, you don’t need to. All you need to do is support your member. The same should be true of your delegates and members. If the injury isn’t because of their workplace then they will still need your help to retain their job.
Follow up with the member.
Even if they aren’t at work, make sure you check in with the member once a month or so to see how they are going. Recovering from an injury can be a lesson in isolation. As an organiser a simple check in with your member can be all the difference your member needs to get through that journey. You should also encourage your member’s workplace delegate to make a phone call to them or email them. A successful return to work can hinge on the connection the member feels with their workplace. Who better to facilitate this than the union?
Keep them within the union while they are away from work.
Apart from calling them, if you have a member away from work recovering from an injury make sure they continue with their union membership. If they are on workers compensation it is likely that their income will be limited. Have a chat to your membership department to put your members fees on hold or changed to a minimal fund, or whatever system your union uses, to retain their membership and involvement with the union. This is not only important to assist the member but when they return to work they will continue with their membership and more than likely be more involved with the union than they may have been before.
Use your referral network.
The Injured Workers Support Network is there for any worker injured at work or outside of work. We can provide advice and referrals to your members (and any non-member) to help them. This is most useful for non-members seeking to join your union after the fact and if they do leave your unions industrial coverage.
The Workers Health Centre is likewise there for the rehabilitation needs of your members (and non-members) and should be top of mind if you or your delegates know of a member needing any form of rehabilitation service.
You don’t need to know all the community services your members may need to access to help them through the financial and emotional problems that come with being injured at work but there are three websites you should write down somewhere to access when they do.
The first is www.iwsn.org.au this site provides heaps of information on workers compensation and advice for your members.
Second is www.financialcounsellingaustralia.org.au the longer someone stays on the workers compensation system the harder it is to budget on the diminishing money. Financial counsellors can and do assist.
The third is http://serviceproviders.dss.gov.au this lists local community services that can and do assist people cope with some of the personal issues that crop up from time to time.
Make time to visit your member when they return to work.
Returning to work can be the most difficult period of a workers compensation claim and one in which industrial law and workers compensation system can clash. As an organiser you are in the best place to assist your member in assessing their needs in either area and help them out. beyond that, it builds their confidence and is another way to link them back with other union members in their workplace.