Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (12:12): My question today is for Minister Stitt, the Minister for Workplace Safety. This past week on 1 June was Injured Workers Day. I heard the horrific stories of two workers, Graham and Paul, who have been injured at work. They have been treated so appallingly throughout their recovery, especially by multinational insurance companies that only care about their bottom line. We must treat our workers better. These blokes did not go out and hurt themselves on purpose. However, they will suffer from their injuries for the rest of their lives. Therefore my question is: what is the government doing to ensure that workers who are injured at work are being treated fairly and with compassion throughout their insurance claims process?
Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (12:13): I thank Mr Barton for his question and his ongoing commitment to the health and safety of Victorian workers, something that I share with him. Every worker deserves to be treated with absolute dignity and respect and also be given the supports that they deserve to fully recover and be able to return to meaningful work. The member would know that we have introduced some significant legislation to improve support for injured workers quite recently in this place, and that is in response to, as you know, the 2019 Victorian Ombudsman’s report which found that far too often the experience of injured workers was not fair. The Ombudsman made a number of important recommendations to both the government and WorkSafe, all of which were accepted in full. The government is committed to implementing those recommendations, including the recent legislation that we passed in this place to create an arbitration power at the Accident Compensation Conciliation Service to provide workers seeking justice to have a more timely and inexpensive resolution of disputes about their workers compensation claims and of course the important reforms to include provisional payments for workers who make a mental injury claim so that they can have that incredibly important early access to medical support to put them back on track. We know that early intervention is really important in terms of getting good return-to-work outcomes.
Mr Barton, while I cannot speak about the individual cases that you have raised today, if you were willing to provide some further details to my office, I will ensure that those matters are raised and followed up with WorkSafe.
Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (12:15): Thank you, Minister. An area of particular concern to me is the independent medical examinations (IMEs). This process is meant to provide an independent medical opinion regarding a worker’s injury and treatment. This examination has a direct impact on the decisions made about a worker’s recovery, return to work and entitlement to compensation. This is why I was surprised to discover that these examinations are not carried out by an independent occupational physician but rather insurance companies can choose the examiner of most injuries. As you stated in 2016 and 2019, the Ombudsman identified this was open to abuse, as insurance companies were selecting examiners who support termination or rejection. Since the report, WorkSafe has taken over booking all psych IMEs while all other examinations remain at the discretion of the insurer. Therefore my question is: what is the government doing to reform the current independent medical examination system to make it fairer for injured workers?
Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (12:16): I again thank the member for his question and his interest in these really important issues. In response to the Ombudsman’s recommendations I can confirm that WorkSafe established a centralised complaints management process, and that is the introduction of the Workers Compensation Independent Review Service, which provides injured workers the opportunity to have decisions reviewed if they would like to challenge the original decision of the IME. Since the establishment of this system I am advised that WorkSafe has observed an improvement in some of those outcomes, and this includes clearer communication with injured workers about their claims and better engagement between agents and the treating practitioners. I am additionally— (Time expired)