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Parliament: Higher payouts, greater transparency among changes to work injury compensation law

An additional 300,000 more workers will be covered under mandatory insurance for work-related injuries while maximum payouts will be raised, under a new law passed in Parliament on Tuesday (Sept 3).

Employees placed on light duties owing to work injuries will also receive their regular pay - as though they were on medical leave - for up to two weeks, while companies with poor safety records may face higher insurance premiums when more information is available to insurers.

These and other changes will make the system better for both employers and employees, said Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad as he launched the Work Injury Compensation Bill 2019 for debate.

The Bill will raise the maximum compensation amount from Jan 1 next year to $225,000 for death and $289,000 for total permanent incapacity. This is 10 per cent higher than the current caps.

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The maximum compensation proposed for medical expenses also goes up to $45,000, from $36,000, to ensure it continues to cover more than 95 per cent of all medical expense claims under the legislation.

These caps are being updated to keep pace with rising wages and healthcare costs, Mr Zaqy said.

The Bill also covers all non-manual employees earning up to $2,600 a month, not just those working in factories or earning below $1,600. The salary threshold will be raised in two stages: to $2,100 on April 1 next year, and to $2,600 a year later.

Another change will give employees placed on light duties similar compensation as those placed on medical leave. Workers on light duties should be able to get their average monthly earnings, including overtime, bonuses and allowances, for 14 days, and then two-thirds of this amount for up to one year from the accident.

To protect workers' interests, employers will have to report any instance of employees on medical leave or light duties due to a work injury.

"This is to address the concern that some irresponsible employers may try to avoid reporting work accidents by attempting to influence doctors to give fewer days of medical leave or light duties," said Mr Zaqy.

Workers can also ask to change doctors if they believe the incapacity assessment is not being done fairly or they are not given enough medical leave.

To expedite claims processing, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will approve certain insurers who can provide Work Injury Compensation insurance. These insurers will process all insured claims, instead of MOM processing some types of claims and the insurers processing the rest.

Permanent incapacity compensation should also be based on current incapacity at least six months after an accident, instead of waiting for an assessment of the degree of permanent incapacity to be made after a longer period.

Mr Zaqy said that about 20 per cent of permanent incapacity claims take longer than six months to be resolved due to the time taken for an assessment, which results in higher upkeep expenses for employers and uncertainty for employees.

For cases of fatal or serious injuries, claims processing will automatically start once an accident report is made, though employees can opt out.

Industry salary data will be used to calculate workers' average monthly earnings if there are no payslips available, so that disputes over salary do not hold up the compensation process.

The Bill will replace the existing Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA), which was last amended in 2011.

Under the Act, employees do not need to prove the employer's negligence to be compensated, unlike if he were to claim damages under common law.

On average in the past three years, about 15,000 work injury compensation claims were awarded each year, with a total payout of close to $115 million per year for wage and lump sum compensation, said Mr Zaqy.

Almost all claimants were compensated by the deadline set by the MOM.

Another key change will see the ministry share WICA claims data with insurers, and allow them to verify companies' declared workforce and annual payroll with the ministry's database.

This is so that insurers can offer lower premiums to companies with good safety records, said Mr Zaqy.

"Less safe employers who are faced with higher premiums will have greater commercial incentive to put in place measures to prevent their employees from getting injured in the first place," he said.

The MOM will also provide more certainty for employers through setting standard terms for WICA-compliant insurance policies, and allowing them to seek recovery for full compensation paid in cases of false claims.

Finally, MOM will raise and add penalties for offences like not paying compensation or withholding necessary documents for claims processing.