Work Hurts

Picture an elite sports person. A toned, muscular body is probably one of the first things most people envisage, especially if they are body builders or involved in some type of gym junky movement. Strong, fit, knowledgeable about the limitations of their physical ability.

Which begs the question: how can a current Body Building Champion teacher (who trains in lifting etc all the time) even be considered for a law suit against her employer (the Qld Government) and her gym for failing in their duty when she lifted down a water container from a shelf and hurt herself?

If you don’t think it can happen to you, it can – a customer of ours is facing a very costly legal challenge from a former employee who claims he was injured during his employment with them over 5 years ago. To increase the value of the claim, the legal action includes his last employer so he can try for loss of F uture earnings (hey, may as well aim for seven figures). Wonder if the Courts will notice that his Resume reads like a Who’s Who of the Industry, and that his referees will tell you whilst he’s a very capable fitter, the reason he’s now unemployable is because he’s inherently lazy and disrespectful to all he works with. I have given similar examples of where the law is just wrong on previous occasions. It is these better-odds-than-Lotto cases that is putting the current scheme on an unsustainable trajectory. Meanwhile, many of the people in our society who need support and genuinely want to recover and get back to work are being overlooked. So as a result of wanting a sustainable scheme that achieves these goals, I joined in the recent review of Workers Compensation in Qld. The review has now been tabled in Parliament, and a summary of the main changes are as follows:

  1. No win, No Fee legal challenges – Lawyers are bleating because their marketing rort is about to be restricted. Lawyers will be required to disclose fees properly, and common law claims can only be chased where there is Whole Person Impairment greater than 5%. This threshold will wipe out about half of all court case compo and damages claims, including the quick cash grab claims before people get back to work somewhere else. Note: employees are still covered under WorkCover, they just can’t double dip any more. The legal professions’ concern is purely about losing their fees (paid by the other party) and collecting “their” 50% of the settlements on about $350 million a year.
  2. To and from Work Travel claims are still available. This is despite for instance the Tax Office not including travel to and from work in FBT calculations, or the employer having any influence on how a person gets to work.
  3. Psychological injury claims are increasing rapidly, but the definition is changing from being “a significant contributing factor” to being “the major significant contributing factor”.  This is an important change in that it recognises that work is not the only factor impacting negatively on a persons’ well being, as seems to have been the case in the past. One would have thought that work impacts positively on most people’s psychological well being by creating a sense of worth.
  4. Fraud related offences will be referred to Q-Comp, and it will be mandatory for insurers to refer injured workers to an accredited return to work program – who’d have thought these processes weren’t in place already?

The changes appear to get WorkCover Qld back to a more sensible middle ground and allowing the insurance scheme to be more sustainable into the future. The focus will be on looking after those that are unfortunately genuinely injured whilst at work. No employer deliberately injures a worker – our People are our greatest Asset. The changes do make it harder for questionable and excessive claims to be made, and brings back more focus on getting people able to return to work. It will also remove some of the risk associated with employing people in the first place, meaning businesses will be more likely to invest in growth and hiring.

NZ’s Big Raspberry

If you think the All Blacks winning run against the Wallabies hurts, prepare for plenty more thrashings from across the Tasman. Whilst Australia was coasting on the back of strong commodities pricing and pumping up our chest about how great we were, New Zealand didn’t have the natural resources luck charm. When they kicked out their wasteful Government in 2008, they started the process of improving their countries competitiveness. So it should be no surprise to anybody that NZ (moving from 23rd to 18th) passed Australia (dropping from 20th to 21st) for the first time ever in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index.

During this time, let’s remember that NZ confronted the same global environment we did, but also inherited an economy in recession and facing years of forecast deficits, a collapsed non-bank finance sector, and earth quakes that destroyed Christchurch. They also face having a smaller domestic market size.

Out of 144 countries, Australia on the other hand came 137th for the rigidity of hiring and firing practices, 135th for rigidity of wage setting, and 128th for the burden of Government regulation. Red and Green Tape, inefficient government bureaucracy, and tax rates and tax regulation were also weak points. We ranked well on inflation and public debt-to-GDP ratio though (a bit like the David Bradbury Award though – all the other competitors fell over).

So what did New Zealand do differently 5 years ago? They remained committed to returning the budget to surplus (which they will achieve next year) while trying to provide stimulus through tax cuts. NZ also rated highly for their education and health system, its goods and labour market efficiency, and capacity to innovate.

Say Cheese

Business papers are full about the pending sale of one of our last dairy producers, Warrnambool Cheese and Butters. NZ has ripped Australia to shreds in the agricultural industry. One of the main suitors is NZ’s Fonterra, which in the last decade has focussed on production efficiency and value adding. Since 2002, Australia’s global dairy market share has halved from 15% to 7% in 2012, whilst Fonterra lifted NZ’s share from 30 to 37%. We can blame Woolworths and Coles all we like – they’re not part of the export market. From the above examples, it’s clear that we’ve totally dropped the ball on everything when it comes to playing in the global business world. Not to sound too alarmist, but if we want to become the food bowl of Asia (or indeed supply anything at all), we could do well to take on board some of the lessons from our All Black dairy fri ends.

Not the whole blame rests with our Governments though. Many companies limit themselves and create their own inefficiencies and subsequent demise. We have had several instances where we have purchased from various “controlled” sites where only one transport provider is inducted. Compared to loading the same type of truck just outside the gate, the extra cost is approximately 20-50%. It only costs us occasionally, but is costing these sites every single day.

As Monty Python’s fabulous skit goes: “It’s only a flesh wound!” Until there is nothing left.

As always, onwards and upwards!

Fred Carlsson
General Manager

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