Wednesday, October 14, 2009

National sticks it to the poor again

National has announced its changes to ACC to "restore" financial sustainability (which was never under threat). So, what are they? First, the usual assortment of headline-grabbing but inconsequential changes which will make no real difference (strengthening disentitlements for criminals, and removing entitlements for suicide and self-inflicted injury, even when the latter is inflicted as a result of mental-illness). Secondly, introducing a threshold for hearing loss, effectively allowing employers to gradually deafen their employees and making us wear the cost for their unsafe practices. But most importantly, they plan to reverse the 2008 changes which extended greater (and fairer) cover to part-time, casual and seasonal workers.

The latter is important. A quarter of the workforce is now part-time, casual or seasonal. They pay premiums. But under National, they won't get as much cover, and will have to bear far more of the cost of workplace injury themselves. And they are the people worst-placed to do so - insecure employment arrangements are more common at the bottom end of the labour market, where people are less likely to have savings to fall back on. The upshot: at the bottom end, workplace accidents will drive people deeper into poverty - exactly what the ACC scheme was intended to prevent.

This will decrease compensation costs, meaning reduced premiums to employers. But it will effectively shift the burden of paying for ACC's beaten-up accounting crisis onto the poor. That is not fair and it is not just, and we as a society should not accept it.