Warnings of trauma in federal job cuts

September 12, 2013

Noel Towell

Reporter for The Canberra Times

Federal public service bosses have been warned of the psychological impact on workers of the staffing cuts in the wake of the Coalition’s election victory.

Federal workplace insurer Comcare has written to departments and agencies reminding them of the risk of ”psychosocial” injuries as the bureaucracy faces traumatic times.

The incoming Abbott government has pledged to cut 12,000 Commonwealth jobs and impose an efficiency dividend on departments, as well as moving an unnamed agency to Gosford on the NSW central coast.

A ”commission of audit” will also examine all facets of Commonwealth public sector spending with Canberra’s bureaucracy firmly in its sights.


Comcare chief executive Paul O’Connor has urged bosses to try to minimise the trauma suffered as a result of the likely downsizing.

”We all know change – of any nature – can be disruptive,” Mr O’Connor wrote. ”Major organisational decisions around restructuring can have health and safety consequences for workers.

”I encourage you during this time of change to ensure appropriate support for your workers.”

Psychosocial injuries in the public service have contributed to a half-billion-dollar blow-out in the Comcare insurance scheme.

Such claims are four times more common in the public service than in the private sector and are up by 30 per cent in the past three years.

Workers claiming for psychological harm take more than a year to get back to their desks on average, compared with four months for victims of falls, slips and trips.

Psychological injuries account for less than 10 per cent of ”compensable” injuries, but more than 35 per cent of the cost of claims.

Mr O’Connor urged managers to use fact sheets on mental health in the workplace that identify poorly managed changes as a key cause of psychological injury claims.

”Workers’ compensation claims for psychological injury are often the result of poorly managed change,” according to the internal public service material.

”Continuous change, including uncertainty over the future and rapid shifts in the direction of work, is one of the central challenges for maintaining mental health and well-being at work.”

Mr O’Connor also reminded public service bosses to remember the thousands of bureaucrats who are away from their workplaces on workers’ compensation claims.

”If your organisation is subject to … changes or staffing cuts, it’s important you consider the interests of all of your workers,” he wrote. ”This includes those who receive rehabilitation assistance and support and may be off work.

”Out of sight – especially at this time – should not be out of mind.

He reminded bosses that a worker’s compensation claim would not necessarily end simply because the employee had been made redundant and reminded managers of their responsibilities to try to get claimants back to their desks.

”If your organisation is offering redundancies, it’s important you consider the rehabilitation needs of each injured worker prior to making a decision,” he wrote.

”In most cases, your workers’ compensation liabilities can be better managed if the connection with work is maintained, so the injured worker has access to rehabilitation and the ability to return to work.”

Canberra Times

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