MPs raise issue of coverage for workers with mental illnesses

(Left) Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) called for mental health issues to be included in the list of occupational diseases covered under the Work Injury Compensation Act. (Right) Nominated MP Douglas Foo said that standardised insurance coverage,
(Left) Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) called for mental health issues to be included in the list of occupational diseases covered under the Work Injury Compensation Act. (Right) Nominated MP Douglas Foo said that standardised insurance coverage, the taking over of all claims processing by insurers and the higher compensation limits may increase insurance premiums.

Mental health issues arising from the workplace should be included in the list of occupational diseases covered under the Work Injury Compensation Act, said labour MP Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC).

He suggested that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) consider expanding the list, which would provide an avenue for employees to claim compensation for such issues, or at least initiate more studies on the effect of workplace mental health issues.

"Mental health issues arising from work are a real and an ever-present danger at the workplace," he said yesterday.

"We can (quibble) about how to label such mental health issues - whether it is an occupational phenomenon or a work-related disease. What is clear, however, is that we need to protect our workers who may be suffering in silence."

He was among several MPs who raised the issue of coverage for mental illnesses during the debate on the Work Injury Compensation Bill.

Nominated MP Anthea Ong suggested providing migrant workers with easy access to counselling services, and a case management rehabilitation programme to help prepare injured workers to return to work in a sustainable manner.

Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said mental illnesses are covered under the Work Injury Compensation Act as long as they are linked to a work accident.

 
 
 
 

He added that in the past five years, three cases of psychological injury arising from work-related accidents were compensated under the Act. All were related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A total of 13 MPs spoke in support of the Bill, though they raised concerns as well.

Nominated MP Douglas Foo and Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) said some provisions like having standardised insurance terms set by MOM will probably lead to higher costs for businesses.

Mr Foo, who is president of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation and chairman of Sakae Holdings, said standardised insurance coverage, the taking over of all claims processing by insurers and the higher compensation limits may increase insurance premiums.

"Employers will need to factor this increase into their total business cost. This is especially important in the context of today's challenging business climate," he said.

Mr Zaqy said the work injury compensation insurance market is competitive with 31 insurers operating, so it will be difficult for any insurer to unilaterally raise premiums.

Average premiums paid per employee insured declined 12 per cent from 2015 to last year despite compensation limits being raised by 20 per cent in January 2016, he said.

The vast majority of companies already insure all their employees even though they do not need to do so, and only around 25,000 to 30,000 more employees will need to be covered, so companies would not face significantly higher premium costs as a result of the expanded coverage, he added.

MPs also raised the issue of coverage for self-employed people, and called for more efforts in educating workers - especially low-wage foreign workers - about their rights to compensation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2019, with the headline 'MPs raise issue of coverage for workers with mental illnesses'. Print Edition | Subscribe