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Research project seeks alternatives for failing workers’ comp schemes 

A workers’ compensation study funded by the Australian Research Council will seek to develop a new model that addresses failings in current schemes, which have struggled to keep pace with societal changes. 

The Workers’ Voice Project will be led by Monash University and involves the Australian Centre for Justice Innovation, the University of Melbourne, and Canada’s University of Waterloo, as well as injured worker support groups and networks. 

Professor Alex Collie, from the Monash School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine says some of Australia’s largest workers’ compensation schemes have been under financial pressure, and are struggling to get people back to work. 

“To manage their budgets, governments have been cutting benefits and restricting access to these schemes,” he said. “This short-term, knee-jerk reaction to financial pressure creates as many problems as it solves.” 

The research project aims to design and model a system that reflects the experiences, views, and preferences of people who have made a workers’ compensation claim, in the past 10 years. 

Professor Collie says most of the workers’ compensation schemes were designed in the 1980s. 

 “The world of work, and the types of injury and illness we see at work, have changed fundamentally, but our systems haven’t kept pace,” he said. “This project is about re-imagining workers’ compensation for the future.” 

Professor Collie says there’s strong evidence that workers’ compensation systems have been structured and operated in a way that could cause problems for injured workers. 

“Many studies in Australia and internationally show that a lot of people find workers’ compensation stressful and complex, and that for some people this contributes to slower recovery and significant distress,” he said. 

“These studies suggest that it is the way workers’ compensation schemes operate that can lead to problems. The sector has a history of treating injured workers as claims to be managed, rather than as vulnerable people in need of support.” 

Professor Collie says workers with an injury or illness, their family and friends, have a unique and valuable experience of workers’ compensation and their experiences should be heard and have greater weight in the design and operation of systems. 

Australia has 11 main workers’ compensation systems, one in each state and territory and three at the Commonwealth level. Nearly quarter of a million people make a claim each year, with more than 100,000 of these being for more than 5 days off work. 

The Workers’ Voice project is expected to run until 2026, with major findings released periodically, beginning early next year. 

More details about the study are available here