A Sunshine lawyer has warned that injured local western suburbs workers from migrant backgrounds are being intimidated into not reporting incidents by rogue employers.
Slater and Gordon workcover lawyer Marcus Fogarty, who works out of the firm’s Sunshine office, said with Brimbank having Victoria’s second-highest concentration of residents who do not primarily speak English at home, many were being exploited by ruthless bosses following workplace incidents.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 56.2 per cent of people in Brimbank speak languages other than English at home, well ahead of the Victorian average of 33 per cent.
Mr Fogarty said the firm regularly encountered local workers from migrant backgrounds who had been injured but had failed to lodge WorkCover claims either through a lack of understanding of the system or pressure from an employer.
Speaking on the eve of National Worksafe Week (October 21 to November 1), Mr Fogarty said more needed to be done to ensure vulnerable workers were aware of their rights.
“From the cases we are seeing, it appears there is no shortage of local employers who are willing to exploit vulnerable workers following workplace incidents,” Mr Fogarty said.
He said the region had a large number of small employers who had a greater tendency to cut corners when it came to workplace safety and that, when accidents do occur, they often engaged in subtle intimidation tactics to dissuade workers from lodging a WorkCover claim.
“We are processing claims for numerous clients who state their employer told them they would lose their jobs or damage their chances of getting permanent residency in Australia if they reported their injury,” Mr Fogarty said.
“Too often the employer will put their bottom line ahead of injured workers’ welfare because they do not want to have their WorkCover premiums increase as a result of their employees lodging claims for workplace injuries and also because that claims process leaves them open to a workplace safety audit.”
He said other clients failed to lodge WorkCover claims because they were unaware of Victoria’s workers compensation scheme or that they were entitled to compensation for injuries sustained as a result of an employer’s negligence.
He said the Sunshine office was presently processing nearly a dozen cases where this had occurred, including one recent case involving a client with a serious eye injury and a man who is in danger of losing his leg as a result of chemical burns at a Brooklyn meatworks.
“We are dealing with two clients with limited English language skills who both worked at the same meatworks and state that they were advised by their boss not to report their injuries as work related,” Mr Fogarty said.
Mr Fogarty said many of the workers come from cultures that are hesitant to question authority figures as they feel it could impact on their employability and their ability to support their families and they only became aware of their rights after visiting health professionals.
“The sad fact is many of these people will be struggling to survive on Centrelink benefits when they should have been compensated for lost earnings and medical and other expenses under the WorkCover scheme.”