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The number of injury cases seen at the Cuff Road Project more than doubled between 2011 and 2013, latest figures show. In 2011, our volunteers saw 807 injured workers; it shot up to 1,523 cases in 2012, and rose some more in 2013, to 1,791.
However, the total numbers seen at our meal programme increased only slightly (by 1.7 percent) between 2013 and 2012. This was due to a big reduction in the category we call ‘company cases’, which mostly comprise complaints of unpaid salary. Company cases fell by 44 percent in 2013 compared to 2012.
The case numbers seen at Cuff Road should not be confused with the case numbers seen by Transient Workers Count Too as a whole. TWC2’s office, where our social workers and helpline are based, also see cases. The Chinese, Burmese, and female domestic workers (Indonesian or Filipina) seen at the office would have little desire to eat at the Cuff Road Project since we serve South Asian food there.
Whilst the ‘company cases’ saw a decline in numbers at Cuff Road, they almost surely increased significantly at the office, though numbers are not yet compiled. In the last six months, our social workers have been dealing with fairly large groups coming with salary complaints. Generally, these workers have been housed by their employers while their cases were being looked into, in dormitories in Jurong East, Kranji, Geylang or Woodlands. With food provided at the dormitories, they had no need to sign up with the Cuff Road Project.
Overstay cases have decreased substantially over the last three years. In 2013, we saw only about a third of the number we saw in 2011. We do not know the reason for this.
With the increase in injury cases and the reduction in company cases and overstay cases, injuries now dominate the scene at the Cuff Road Project. Where they made up only a bit more than half the cases seen in 2011, they now constitute 81 percent of the cases seen in 2013.
One worrying thing about the injury cases we see is that an increasing number of them find themselves up against denials by their employers that the accidents occurred at work. The validity of their work injury claims is suspended while the Ministry of Manpower looks into the matter, but unless the worker is able to bring some proof that the accident really did occur at the workplace — not easy — the suspension won’t be lifted.
TWC2 has often pointed out the inherent bias against workers when it is the employer who controls much of the evidence, yet MOM asks the worker to bring proof.
Another feature of the injury cases we see is that some of them progress extremely slowly. Employers delay providing letters of guarantee, without which hospitals will not carry out major procedures. Paperwork goes missing or is just agonisingly slow. In both 2012 and 2013, about fourteen percent of the injury cases re-registering for meals month after month at the Cuff Road Project have been here more than a year after the injury. A small number are still here two years after.
This matters because the Work Injury Compensation Act sets a cut-off at 12 months for medical leave wages. These men whose cases extend beyond 12 months are therefore bereft of income support, even when doctors certify them for medical leave.
Likewise, there is (in addition to a cap of $30,000) a one-year limit for medical expenses. If a worker needs further treatment more than one year after the accident date, the employer can refuse to pay for it. MOM, on its website, implies that workers can pay for such treatment out of their own pockets and then seek reimbursement through the courts:
3) Why is there a need to set absolute limits for the cost of medical treatment?
As WICA seeks to strike a fair balance between compensation for employees and the obligations placed on employers and their insurers, MOM has to set a clear limit to the compensation for medical expenses in order to provide certainty to employers. The new limits for medical expenses will continue to fully cover more than 95% of claims where hospitalisation is required. The one-year cap is adequate as most injuries typically stabilise within a year from the accident.
Employees who wish to claim the full medical expenses beyond the cap can choose to do so under common law. Needy cases can also apply through the hospital’s medical social worker for assistance on a case-by-case basis.
Source: FAQ on MOM’s website, accessed 5 April 2014. Link
This completely ignores the reality that work permit holders, with their low salaries, are in no position to pay for medical treatment themselves. It also ignores the fact that they can’t afford lawyers either, to take a case to court.
One in seven injury cases seen at Cuff Road are more than a year old. This is no small matter.
TWC2 is an organization that is dedicated to assisting low-wage migrant workers when they are in difficulty. We are motivated by a sense of fairness and humanity, though our caseload often exceeds our