Insurance body’s proposals for gig workers could result in unequal work injury payouts: Koh Poh Koon

Tapping existing private insurance products to provide the same level of coverage for gig workers as employees here will also lead to higher business costs. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Insurers should not be the final arbiter of work injury claim disputes as this does not ensure fairness for gig workers and the platform companies that hire them, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Koh Poh Koon on Tuesday.

Tapping existing private insurance products to provide the same level of coverage for gig workers as employees here will also lead to higher business costs, he told Parliament, as he rejected suggestions from the General Insurance Association of Singapore (GIA) that tweaks to current solutions can offer protections on a par with the Work Injury Compensation Act (Wica).

“If it was so viable, why didn’t the insurers and the platform companies suggest this earlier when there were workers who were injured (or died) while on the job?” he asked, echoing a question posed by Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) on the issue.

“Given the confidence that GIA has on the efficiency of existing products and policies... I would suggest that GIA members work closely with platform companies to offer financial protection and compensation for these workers at the level of Wica as soon as possible – by the first quarter of next year, hopefully – using their existing products while maintaining the cost of premiums at parity with Wica insurance products,” Dr Koh said.

“This will provide better coverage for workers in the interim and keep costs manageable for platform companies and consumers, while we work on the implementation details of Wica for this group of workers,” he added.

Dr Tan had asked about a Nov 23 statement issued by GIA after the Government accepted an advisory committee’s recommendations on ways to better protect the 73,200 private-hire drivers, cabbies and food delivery workers here who use digital platforms for income.

One of the proposals is to extend the Wica regime to these platform workers, so they get basic insurance coverage for workplace injuries regardless of the number of hours they have worked or how many platforms they are working for.

This is expected to kick in by 2024 at the earliest, and the coverage a worker gets will be based on the earnings from all the platforms that he or she has worked for in the sector.

GIA, whose members include Chubb, Etiqa and Income Insurance, said in response to the committee’s proposal that platform workers could be similarly protected using a combination of MediShield Life, which covers medical expenses, prolonged medical leave insurance and group personal accident insurance.

“We firmly believe that financial protection for platform workers can be efficiently achieved through these existing solutions compared with the Wica-based solution,” GIA chief executive Ho Kai Weng had said, adding that the industry body’s proposals would provide a wider scope of protection, reduce the effort needed to compute and make claims, and reduce disputes about whether a worker was hurt while on the job or not.

Dr Koh on Tuesday rebutted these arguments.

He said insurers had told the advisory committee that offering prolonged medical leave insurance and group personal accident insurance at the same level as Wica would result in higher insurance premiums for platform companies, which contradicts GIA’s statement.

Dr Koh also said there is no reason why platform workers should rely on MediShield Life, which is paid for using the workers’ own MediSave, if they suffer a work injury.

“GIA’s suggestion is essentially asking platform workers to pay for their own medical expenses,” he added.

Dr Koh said the work injury compensation amounts offered by some platform companies today are much lower than what employees are entitled to under Wica, and coverage is uneven across the different platforms.

He said bridging this gap through Wica is fair to both platform workers and platform companies, as workers will receive the same protection as employees exposed to the same job risks, while platform companies are not liable for injuries suffered outside of work.

This is unlike the insurance policies that GIA has suggested using, which give fixed payouts and require 24/7 coverage.

“While we welcome platform companies to go above and beyond by providing 24/7 coverage for their workers, the Government should not require them to do so,” Dr Koh said.

“Similarly, it would not be right to provide a fixed payout to injured platform workers when platform workers are a diverse group, ranging from those who engage in casual work, perhaps only infrequently and for a short number of hours a day, to those who do it on a more full-time basis,” he added.

Dr Koh also noted that under Wica, there is an established mechanism for companies and workers to lodge disputes and a resolution process overseen by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) that ensures there is no prejudice to the company or the worker.

GIA’s suggestion of using only existing prolonged medical leave insurance or group personal accident insurance solutions would relegate this process to private insurance policies with no clear dispute resolution mechanisms, he said.

Platform workers have also given feedback that they often have to jump through hoops to settle injury claims currently, so much so that some gave up filing such claims, Dr Koh added.

“GIA’s proposal is not a viable alternative to the advisory committee’s recommendation... It would lead to either unsustainable premiums for platform companies or work injury compensation for platform workers that is far below the level of entitlement by employees,” he said.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Bukit Panjang) asked about the advisory committee’s recommendation to exempt street-hail operations from the upcoming changes, and criticism by companies such as Grab.

Dr Koh said in response that including street-hail operations would lead to an uneven playing field as the business model is different from ride-hailing.

He said cabbies essentially rent their vehicles from the taxi companies and can decide how and where to pick up passengers. No penalties are levied on taxi drivers if they decide not to work and passengers pay cabbies directly, with no commission paid to the taxi company, he added.

Dr Koh said: “In that sense, the degree of management control is less and perhaps non-existent in this case.”

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