Changes to work injury law to improve insurance cover

Proposed amendments to help more workers get compensation for on-the-job injuries

New measures are in the works to improve insurance coverage for employees and give those injured on the job greater assurance of compensation - and much sooner after an accident.

The proposals are among possible amendments to the Work Injury Compensation Act, which requires employers to compensate staff injured at work.

One change would broaden coverage to insure more employees.

Around 16,000 valid claims are lodged a year, with almost all receiving compensation under the Act.

Since 1995, employers have to buy work injury compensation (WIC) insurance for those who do manual work and non-manual factory workers earning up to $1,600 a month. The WIC provides greater assurance in the event that employers cannot pay compensation.

The proposals, which are open for public feedback, would mean non-manual employees not working in factories and who earn up to $2,600 are also covered by WIC.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in a statement yesterday: "While the proposed amendments may lead to higher WIC insurance premiums, the incremental cost is estimated to be manageable (at less than 0.01 per cent of annual total labour cost), with greater impact to companies with more injury claims."

More than 24,000 uninsured workers will benefit from this expanded mandatory insurance coverage by April 2021.

The MOM also proposes to expand the scope of who gets compensation. Only injured employees on medical leave are now compensated with their average monthly earnings. But the ministry said it "intends to expand compensation to those placed on light duties as a result of work injury, such that they are no worse off than those given medical leave".

The Act will also lift maximum compensation levels by at least 10 per cent to keep pace with wage growth and rising medical costs.

An injured employee in the future will get up to $45,000 for medical expenses within a year from the accident date, up from $36,000 now.

Processing claims should also be faster with the proposed changes.

Since most injuries show their final extent within six months after an accident, compensation can be made based on that assessment. Claims made will also be processed by default, instead of getting the employee to file a claim separately.

About 1,300 claims a year, or 24 per cent of valid permanent incapacity claims, still take longer than six months to reach their conclusion, the MOM noted.

It added that future compensation can be made based on a multiple of the employee's basic monthly salary, which would cut delays arising from disputes over the salary used as the basis for compensation.

Some insurers will be licensed to sell and process all insured claims under the Act. WIC insurers now process only temporary incapacity claims, while MOM processes death and permanent incapacity claims.

The maximum fines for employers delaying or avoiding compensation will also be increased from $10,000 to $15,000.

Employment lawyer Wiyatno Gerald Mursjid said: "It is more in line with the spirit of the Act to ensure that more employees are required to be covered by insurance.

"The measures are towards a good purpose... but it will also be about how they're implemented."

The document outlining the proposed changes is available on the Reach website from now to Feb 25.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2019, with the headline 'Changes to work injury law to improve insurance cover'. Print Edition | Subscribe