The NSW Government have released a paper discussing ways to simplify our worker’s compensation review systems.
While discussions of reform have been welcomed by the legal community, one suggestion in the paper has drawn the vocal disapproval of the NSW Law Society and Unions NSW.
Namely, in two of the four ‘options to reform the dispute resolution system’, the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation has suggested that the Workcover Independent Review Officer be subsumed into the existing State Insurance Regulator Authority (SIRA), the body that regulates workers compensation insurance in NSW.
Although they concede the dispute resolution system is badly in need of reconsideration, the NSW Law Society contends that “dispute resolution processes should be dealt with by an appropriately independent body, and not one that is also responsible for the regulation of the system under which disputes occur”.
So why does this matter?
Well, the WorkCover Independent Review Officer (WIRO) was established in a 2012 as part of broad reforms. The office deals with complaints about insurers, reviews work capacity decisions, and conducts independent reviews on the operation of the system. Since its inception, WIRO has assisted more than 20,000 injured workers with workers compensation complaints.
Understandably, if the independence of the body tasked with handling these complaints is compromised, the system may struggle to appropriately serve some of our most vulnerable citizens. And, well, in their report, the NSW Government concedes that if these proposals were to be enacted, “the workers’ compensation system would lose the independent contribution of WIRO”.