‘Bags of Love’ Needed for WorkCover ‘Misfits’
Thursday, 27th September 2012 at 9:59 am
OPINION: Australia’s workers compensation system lacks any social justice program to assist injured workers who face financial stress, unemployment, lack of food, personal bankruptcy and family breakdowns, says the founder of an Adelaide emergency food project, Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson.
In South Australia up to 60,000 people are injured at work every year, and whilst it is correct that 90% of them will return to work within a short period of time, sadly the other 10% "fall between the cracks". It is this group of people that Work Injured Resource Connection focuses on.
Work Injured Resource Connection inc in Adelaide started the "Bags of Love" emergency food project to help put non-perishable foods and groceries onto the tables of injured workers. We rely on donations of food and funds to be able to help these struggling families.
WorkCover in Australia is managed like an insurance business. It treats injured workers like any other insured thing like a car – the process for knocking out dents and painting is the same for everyone and utterly unsuited to human experiences of workplace injury.
However, the system is a disastrous failure for a small but important segment of injured workers whose needs don't fit the one-size-fits-all insurance process. The system damages some people further rather than healing them.
What the WorkCover system fails to realise is that human beings don't fit a single, inflexible process and respond in the same way to set expectations. Peoples' needs and responses are different. The system does not find out early what people's needs are and as a result, more damage can be done than good.
Worse, these people remain on compensation over a long period. Then, WorkCover treats them as a financial burden to be taken off the system forcibly – to be heaped on the reject pile; human flotsam and jestam.
The plight of these people can be so desperate that far too often I have to work with families that have suffered suicide or attempted suicide of a loved one. These people are ignored by the WorkCover system, or at best are regarded as collateral damage to be excised as cheaply as possible.
The social impact on families and the community is ignored by the system altogether, yet that is perhaps where the highest price of all is paid for the system's insensitivity.
The range of services Work Injured Resource Connection Inc provide is wide. Sometimes, all people need is a place to go, to unburden themselves without increasing the stress on their families.
The "Bags of Love" emergency food project provides basic necessities for people left destitute by the WorkCover system. Work Injured Resource Connection Inc also provides advice, advocacy, support and comfort.
Alone we cannot change the system but we have at times succeeded in persuading the system to care more about the people whose lives it has adversely affected.
With some careful intervention Work Injured Resource Connection Inc has made a difference for some of those we work with. This has involved tasks like breaking the cycle of addiction to pain medication that is too often prescribed as a substitute for treatment when cases become too hard for the system. Or sometimes it is as simple as arranging some retraining and re-awakening a person's desire to rejoin society and the workforce.
Above all, we care about the children whose parents go through these experiences. They are the most poignant victims of all – helpless, incapable of understanding what has happened to their family; ignored by a system that barely recognises what it has done to their parents.
Work Injured Resource Connection inc has no funding, because regardless of the grants we have applied for, the funding bodies have no understanding that there aren’t any social justice issues for injured workers so even though the funding bodies agree that the work we do is admirable, they simply don't put any funds into place.
Until the wider public understands that injured workers have nowhere to go for help because they lack the "magic" healthcare card (so they cannot go to the charity food outlets), they cannot get help with any of the power/gas/phone/car registration costs.
Until there is a public discussion, then these issues will remain hidden.
About the author: Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson is the Founder of Work Injured Resource Connection inc “Bags of Love” emergency food project and was awarded the City of Charles Sturt ‘Citizen of the Year 2012’. She has spoken at industry seminars and information gatherings around Australia, as well as regularly hosting Forums for injured workers in Adelaide.