Sandra Cross worked as a casual chef for many years in a busy kitchen.
Over the years she began to develop pain in her feet and ankles during busy shifts. She was eventually diagnosed with tendinitis and plantar fasciitis.
“My doctor told me that all the standing I do in my job exacerbated the condition. I got advice from the union, and put in a claim for Workcover. Because of the pain I started working a lot less, with modified hours and duties.
“This went on for about 2 months. Then suddenly my claim was rejected.
“The company called and told me that they wouldn’t allow me to come back to work until I had a full medical clearance, even though I had been doing modified hours and duties for months.
“My employer and their insurers would not recognise that my work had contributed to my condition at all.
“It was very difficult because I was in pain all the time, and I couldn’t work properly.
“After that I didn’t think I was going to be able to go back to work there. I felt that they didn’t care about my situation, and didn’t want to give me any support.
“After my claim was rejected, I knew I needed help. I called the union office and they told me I could challenge the decision.
“We put together a case and United Voice filed a dispute with the South Australian Employment Tribunal.
“When we met with the Tribunal in December, the insurance company’s representative delayed the proceedings because he said he didn’t have the information. A second meeting was also delayed.
“At the third meeting we put them on notice that if we didn’t get an acceptable result we would be taking this even further.
“After that, they finally came back with an offer.
“Only once we made it clear that we would pursue the matter to a Hearing, did they agree to make a financial offer.
“I feel that a lot of people in my position would have given up by then. The months of stalling tactics really took a toll.
“But I kept at it.
“In the end I was backpaid for loss of income for around $11,000, and backpaid for all my medical expenses since I lodged my claim. They will be covering all my ongoing medical costs until February next year.
“This has made a real difference to me. I’m now in a financial position to get some specialised tools to help with my condition, like orthotics.
“I was lucky because I was able to work a small number of hours at a different job while this was being resolved. Not everyone is in that position, so the delaying tactics used by some employers can mean that workers give up.
“My advice for anyone who has an injury or work-related medical condition is to go to the union, because they can really help you.
“There’s no way that I would have been able to resolve the claim on my own.
“I also appreciated having someone deal with the company on my behalf.
“In the hospitality industry, most work is casual these days and you have even less rights as far as your employer’s responsibility goes.
“That’s why you need to know what your rights are.
“I would encourage other workers to talk to the union right from the start of any issue. Even if you don’t intend to put in a claim, you need to know what your rights are.
“Some hospitality workers don’t seem to understand why they should be a member of the union.
“But I encourage every worker to join their union, to know what your rights are, to be able to work together with your co-workers for better conditions, and to have support if you ever find yourself with a work-related injury.”
For more information, call the United Voice Members’ Rights Centre on 1800 825 468