Limitations to work injury compensation scheme

Workings standing on scaffolding at a construction site in Singapore.
Workings standing on scaffolding at a construction site in Singapore.PHOTO: ST FILE

The Sunday Times package on occupational illnesses draws attention to a problem which is all too easily overlooked (Useless masks, missing earplugs and Loopholes in regime to protect workers' health: Experts, both published on March 31).

As was noted, many occupational illnesses affect workers over time and may not be immediately obvious.

Most of those who perform manual work in Singapore and come to suffer from such illnesses are migrant workers. This is a generally unrecognised cost of having a job here for some.

While the main emphasis in responding to this problem must be on prevention, some attention needs to be given to those whose illnesses as a result of exposure to harmful chemicals or inhalants become evident only years later.

A key tool for any worker seeking compensation for injuries suffered while working is the Work Injury Compensation Act (Wica).

However, to make use of this, a worker would need to not only show conclusively that an injury took place while working, but also would also have to lodge the claim within a year of the injury.

It is hard to see how any worker can use Wica to obtain compensation for workplace damage that was inflicted over an extended period of time, and which may not become apparent until years later. This problem would be amplified for a migrant worker who has left Singapore.

Wica presently covers illnesses resulting from exposure to hazardous materials, but not those with symptoms presenting more than one year after the exposure.

A longer-term reform could be to introduce a co-payment scheme for migrant workers that parallels Singapore's Central Provident Fund.

It could be launched along with a reform of the present levy system, given that one intention of the levy was to discourage the employment of migrant workers (for whom employers did not have to contribute CPF) over Singaporeans.

The terms of access would need careful consideration, but for foreign workers whose deteriorating health might become a burden for their families, it could provide a welcome safety net.

John Gee


Research Sub-Committee

Transient Workers Count Too

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2019, with the headline 'Limitations to work injury compensation scheme'. Print Edition | Subscribe