In January 2019, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) sought public feedback on some proposed amendments to the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA). As TWC2 sees over a thousand cases a year of work injury among foreign workers, this matter is germane to our work.
MOM’s proposals centre chiefly around these themes:
1. Medical leave wages will be payable even if the doctor prescribes light duty. Currently they are only payable if the doctor prescribes medical leave.
2. Compensation limits for permanent incapacity and death will be raised by 10% to $289,000 and $225,000 respectively, and the compensation limit for medical expenses by 25% to $45,000 from the current $36,000. This is in line with rising wages and medical costs.
3. Currently, after an accident in which a worker in injured, the employer files an incident report with MOM for notification purposes, but it is for the employee to file a formal claim. Many workers do not realise that they have to take action too. The new proposal is for the incident report to automatically trigger a claim for the employee(s) involved.
4. Instead of waiting all the way till the injury has fully stabilised before conducting an assessment of permanent incapacity (disability), under the new proposals, an assessment will be conducted six months after the injury. Extension of time will be possible for complicated injuries.
5. In cases where salary documentation is not available (which is anyway an offence) the Average Monthly Earnings (a basis for determining compensation) will be derived from a multiple of basic salary.
6. Claims handling will in future be done by insurance companies, not MOM. MOM will only be involved when there are disputes.
7. WIC insurance policies will be standardised to avoid complications.
Generally, TWC2 welcomes proposals 1 to 3 above. We also believe that proposal 4 will be workable though whether it disadvantages any worker has to be seen.
Re 5, 6 and 7, putting case resolution in the hands of insurers is a fundamental change. Much will depend on the specific processes to be adopted, especially in view of the fact the insurers are not disinterested parties; they are the ones who have to pay if a claim is found valid. Unfortunately, the consultation paper did not contain details about the processes that insurer will be required to adopt and thus TWC2’s comments are mostly in the form of questions.
There are a number of other issues which MOM’s proposals do not address. These include:
1. Delays and obstruction by employers thus effectively denying the worker prompt payment of medical leave wages and medical care. TWC2 urges that the intent of WICA be observed, namely that accidents should be presumed to be work-related if the worker was at work when it happened. Unless the employer can overcome this presumption within one month, the claim should be considered valid. This would improve on the present situation where the claim can linger in limbo for months while waiting for the employer to respond. By keeping a case in limbo, the worker may not get his medical leave wages or appropriate medical care.
2. Long wait between the end of medical leave and final compensation. When workers are placed on Special Passes, they are not allowed to seek new employment, so they have no income at all during this waiting period. TWC2 suggests that as soon as medical leave is ended, the worker should considered fit to work and should have the opportunity to look for a new job.
The consultation paper issued by MOM and TWC2’s submission can be downloaded by the clicking the icons above.
There was an unexpected nugget of information in the consultation paper: Out of about 12 – 13,000 injury claims lodged annually, about five cases a year are not paid compensation even when the injured worker has been awarded it by MOM.