Published: 18 November 2016
Author: Jodie Harris

Ford workers can still claim injury and training benefits

Last month’s closure of the Ford car plant in Geelong was painful, even if it was long- expected. But the pain of leaving behind many years of loyal service in a steady job is often accompanied by another sort of pain.

It’s a hurt that some auto workers have been carrying for months, if not years in the form of a physical injury such as a shoulder or neck injury, or back pain, or maybe a repetitive injury strain sustained from years on a production line.

And the reason they haven’t disclosed their injury is the fear that it might have disqualified them from being offered a redundancy package. Or even more disturbingly, that it might have made them a target for termination even before the plant was due to close.

There are ex-employees of Ford who have shouldered a hidden injury for fear of jeopardising their redundancy package or their steady, reliable and otherwise uneventful employment.

And even now, nearly two months after the plant’s closure, they remain in pain, sometimes hampered in doing certain manual tasks or going about their lives, unaware that they continue to be entitled to workers’ compensation, support and benefits, even though the factory has shut.

Accepting a redundancy doesn’t mean forfeiting any entitlements

The simple fact is that entitlements under the WorkCover legislation cannot be forfeited by accepting a redundancy. The only time a redundancy may have an effect on weekly payments of compensation only is when workers suffered injury on an accepted date prior to 5 April 2010. If you have suffered injury on a date before this time, then injured workers need to be careful accepting a redundancy if you have a current or future entitlement to weekly payments of compensation.

The contract you enter into when you take a job with a company like Ford carries with it the right to compensation should you be injured at work, even though you no longer work at the company. In lawyer-talk, this right is inalienable. It cannot be dismissed. 

We know ex-employees of the Ford plant and other local companies who have been made redundant who think that, because they’ve been paid out, they cannot get additional help for their rehabilitation, or compensation for their continuing pain and suffering.

This is incorrect, and often costly to injured workers. Not just because they forgo additional medical and rehab support, but because valuable vocational training is available through WorkCover, which is over and above anything they might have been offered by Ford, or by any other company for that matter.

What kind of injury payments and job training?

Workers who have been injured may be entitled to no-fault lump sum compensation for a permanent impairment. In the event of a more serious injury, they could be entitled to larger at-fault lump sum payments for pain and suffering (and in some cases economic loss), where they have experienced ‘serious’ consequences, both at and away from work, as a result of a work-related injury.

For those workers who wish to continue their working lives but possibly in another line of work, they may have their retraining paid for.

These are not those often pointless short training courses, but serious certificate courses that lead to qualifications in industries such as social and aged care, pathology, and the like.

Why it is important to get legal advice

If you have accepted a redundancy package from Ford, or from some other company, you owe it to yourself to see a qualified personal injury lawyer for advice. A short interview will determine whether you have a legitimate claim to make or have your further education and training paid for.

Likewise, if you are working in an organisation that is restructuring or planning to shed jobs, you should get legal advice on how best to protect yourself whether you have a work-related injury, or not.

Once you know your rights, you are in a much better position make informed decisions about your future.

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