iCare will repay 53,000 underpaid injured workers

11 November 2021

iCare, the State workers’ compensation insurer has admitted that it has underpaid thousands of workers and will now repay them, according to an article in today’s SMH.

This story has been leaking out in the media for ages.  At a day to day level, my patients have always complained that they get a lot less in compo than they got before their injury. This has been even for workers on regular salaries. Those on casual work were in a worse situation as there was some argument about what their PIAWE (Pre-Injury Average Weekly Earnings) were, especially if they got variable hours from a labour-hire company.

When this scandal first broke, I tried to tell my patients to ask iCare if they had been underpaid and some did.  It seemed that iCare could not work out what their PIAWEs were. It did not have the data. In that employers’ future premiums related to how much was paid out in claims, it suited both the employers and the insurers to minimise their PIAWE, so if a low amount was put in, there was little incentive to check it up.  Now, a few years later, iCare would need a forensic accountant going through the employer’s books to get to the correct amount. This is unlikely to happen.

So while this promise is a start, it is hard to believe that it will be enough to see justice done.

Workers’ Compensation has always been seen as a cost for business rather than a moral obligation to pay for people injured at work. Generally it is about minimising the cost of the payout, rather than having an energetic injury prevention programme.

The Minister in charge is the Treasurer, so all of this happened on Dominic Perrottet’s watch. Matt Kean, the new Treasurer may be more sympathetic, and this will help, but we still need a lot better enforcement of safety to prevent accidents, and much more power to injured people to ensure that they are correctly paid.

It illustrates that active Unions are necessary to redress the power imbalances in the the system. Legislation without enforcement is just words on a page, just as apologies from banks and insurance companies for rip-offs are just sound vibrations in the air.

Here is the article:

‘My sincere apology’: iCare will pay back $38 million to 53,000 injured workers

Lucy Cormack          SMH   November 11, 2021

State insurer iCare will pay $38 million to 53,000 largely underpaid injured workers affected by historic miscalculation errors between 2012 and 2019.

An iCare review of 16,000 injured worker case files has revealed an average error rate of 3.5 per cent or an underpayment of $26 a week due to miscalculated pre-injury average weekly earnings.

“I would like to offer my sincere apology to any injured worker who has been affected by this calculation error,” said ICare chief executive Richard Harding.

Among the most seriously injured and affected are 523 workers underpaid a total of more than $3.9 million, or around $7500 each.

The mass pay-out follows a joint investigation by The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and ABC’s Four Corners which last year revealed iCare had underpaid as many as 52,000 injured workers by up to $80 million in compensation.

ICare then disputed the underpayment figures, saying it believed only 5000 to 10,000 workers had been underpaid up to $10 million in total.

Chief executive officer Richard Harding on Thursday said affected employers and employees had been unable to provide the data to accurately assess underpayments. As a result, iCare conducted a “file by file review” of 16,000 cases as a sample to assess the scale of the errors.

“We’ve been advised there is a risk of overcompensation in this approach, but the desire is to get money back as quickly as possible,” Mr Harding said.

“I would like to offer my sincere apology to any injured worker who has been affected by this calculation error.”

The underpayments were caused by errors in the calculation of pre-injury average weekly earnings for injured workers dating back to 2012, when the insurance scheme was run by WorkCover.

Mr Harding said the average lump sum to be paid to the 53,000 workers will be around $700. However, some will receive thousands.

Affected workers will receive any money owed through an adjustment of their weekly benefits for the weeks already paid. Any historical overpayments caused by the same miscalculation error will not be recouped by iCare.

Revelations of financial mismanagement and widespread underpayment across the iCare stable first emerged last year, before a subsequent review into its culture and governance revealed systemic weaknesses and a failure to hold management to account.

Labor treasury spokesman Daniel Mooched said the announcement repudiated earlier claims that only a small number of people were affected.

“As always with iCare, the devil is in the detail. But today’s announcement is meaningful for the tens of thousands of people iCare underpaid”.

Mr Mookhey said the insurer must guarantee that it will not seek to recover the money from sick and injured workers through benefit cuts or employers through higher premiums.

Upper house Greens MP David Shoebridge said the pay-out to workers followed years of chasing by unions, injured workers and non-government MPs.

While he welcomed the payments, he said there was “no evidence from iCare that this payment goes anywhere near meeting their full obligation to injured workers”.

“We will continue to press iCare for a full accounting so that no injured worker is left short-changed,” he said.

Unions have described the decision to reimburse workers as a significant step but called for greater transparency about the process.

“This is hardly an organisation that can be taken at its word. iCare executives, who are better known for receiving fat bonuses, must detail their methodology,” said Mark Morey, Secretary of Unions NSW.

Last week, a budget estimates hearing heard iCare had reported a $1.4 billion underwriting loss in the past year, with the total accumulated loss of the past three years now exceeding $6 billion.

Treasurer Matt Kean, who is responsible for iCare, told the hearing new legislation following recommendations from another review prompted by the scandal would not be introduced until 2022.