By Hong Ying
Harun Rashid Or has not had the treatment doctors recommended since his accident on 25 August 2015. While trying to understand why, the Ministry of Manpower’s own processes come into the picture. As much as he is being victimised by a callous employer, he may also be disadvantaged by a bureaucracy too lax about enforcing its own rules.
On paper, the laws sound good. In practice they may not be enforced. Workers who are supposed to be protected by the laws then receive no protection at all. Harun is one of them.
Under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA), any work-related accident that results in a worker getting more then three days of medical leave must be reported to the ministry. The report must be made within ten days of the accident. In Harun’s case, there is reason to believe that the employer has not reported the accident as of 23 September, almost a month later. Alex Au, TWC2 treasurer explains to me that MOM’s interactive website responded to an enquiry saying that there is no record of any incident report. Then, checking the WICA status at another part of MOM’s website, he noted that there is no insurance company stated in the online form. “When an employer makes an incident report, he is required to inform MOM of the name of the insurer. The fact that this field remains blank indicates that the employer has not submitted a report about the accident.”
It is quite common for employers not to file incident report within the 10-day deadline. However, TWC2 has not heard of MOM taking employers to task for failing to comply with the law.
Yet, this failure has consequences for the worker. The law requires employers to provide all necessary medical treatment. This page from MOM’s website says clearly,
If you are waiting for payment from your insurance company, you must still pay your employee’s medical leave wages and medical expenses first, and get reimbursed later.
Pay the directly to the hospital or clinic… If your employee has already paid the bills, you must reimburse them by the next payday upon receiving the original medical bills.
The intention behind the rules is clear: no worker should be deprived of needed medical treatment. Yet an examination of Harun’s case history shows that this intention is not lived up to.
Harun fell about two metres at the shipyard in Benoi where we has working. “Safety [officer] sent me in ambulance to Mt Alvernia Hospital,” he recalls. The manager arrived separately and spoke to the doctor. “He said I fall to ground.”
The fact that an ambulance was called and that both the safety officer and manager showed up at the hospital too would make it clear that the accident happened at work. However, this did not make it (at least not then) a reportable accident, because the doctor prescribed only one day of medical leave for Harun. (He was also given six days’ light duty). The employer’s duty to report only kicks in if the worker has more than three days of MC (non-consecutive days are counted).
A few days later, Harun went back to Mt Alvernia for a follow-up appointment. He was given another day of medical leave and four or five days (he can’t remember exactly) of light duty. The doctor told him he needed physiotherapy for his back. And prescribed a belt for him to wear, presumably to keep it straight while it heals.
“But hospital don’t have belt my size,” Harun tells me. “The belt [was] too small.” So apparently, the doctor told him to go to Jurong Health, which he did on or around 8 September. “But therapy not started,” he complains. “Because company not give money. Company paper not give.” He is probably referring to a letter of guarantee employers need to provide hospitals to cover the cost of treatment.
Perhaps because the accident hasn’t been reported, the company didn’t feel the need to pay for medical treatment? Regardless of notification under WICA, Alex tells me, under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, the employer is anyway supposed to provide all necessary medical care.
“There have been so many cases of failure to provide treatment that unavoidably, one has to wonder whether the failure of MOM to enforce this provision punctiliously has led to employers feeling confident they can get away with it,” he says.
At the around the same time, Harun made his own way to Ng Teng Fong Hospital in Jurong East. The doctor must have considered his injury quite serious, giving Harun four days’ MC, extended by a further 31 days on a follow-up visit. Harun says his employer has been notified of these MC prescriptions. Altogether, his medical leave exceeds the threshold beyond which the employer has to make an accident report, yet the company does not appear to have done so.
Harun paid $180 to see the doctor at Ng Teng Fong Hospital, but he is not sure where he will find the money to pay for follow-up visits or therapy. It shouldn’t be his problem. His employer should be covering those costs under the law. Yet delay — with little fear of MOM taking action — has effectively meant that medical treatment and physiotherapy is being held back.
That certainly is opposite to the intent of the law, but law is only useful if it is enforced.