05 October 2014

The Work Injury Compensation Framework – How it really works

05 October 2014

The Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA) provides workers injured at work, whether local or foreign, an expeditious alternative to common law to settle compensation claims. 

We hear stories about how foreign workers who are injured on the job face difficulties and uncertainty on how to claim their injury compensation. 

Today, we take you behind the scenes of the Work Injury Compensation (WIC) process, through the stories of three injured workers – William, Xingfa and Harun. We will show you the many factors at play in each injury claim, and what can be done by the injured worker and the employer together with MOM’s officers in bringing the claim to a positive outcome. These are often not apparent to the public and even the workers themselves. 

From left to right: William, Harun and Xingfa
William Kyaw Thu, Harun Or Rashid Akrum Alim and Wang Xingfa have something in common – unfortunately, they sustained an injury at work. 

Step #1: Reporting the accident to the supervisor immediately

William’s left hand was crushed between two steel structures during a lifting operation. Xingfa’s right foot was fractured when a steel pipe rolled over it. Harun’s left eye was affected after aluminium and concrete dust entered his eye when he was drilling into the underside of a roof.

In all three cases, the first thing they did was to report the accident to their respective supervisors.

It is important to report the accident to the supervisor immediately

William, Xingfa and Harun did the right thing by reporting the accident to their employers immediately. This is what every worker injured at work should do. Their employers should then ensure that the injured employee receives prompt and appropriate medical treatment.

Step #2: Filing a claim for work injury compensation with MOM 

The employer is required to notify MOM promptly of the work accident according to the Incident Reporting requirements. Following the notification, the employer will then handle the compensation claims with MOM on the injured worker’s behalf, including paying for the medical expenses and medical leave wages during the medical leave period. This was William and Xingfa’s experience. 

Though Harun’s employer had initially handled the compensation claim with MOM on his behalf, Harun engaged a lawyer some time later to assist with his WIC claim, because he was worried he would be sent home. We understand that this is a common worry among foreign workers. However, this may be unfounded. Workers with outstanding employment claims and who are forced to go home can either come to MOM or, as a last resort, speak to the immigration officers while getting their passports stamped at the immigration checkpoints. 

In Harun’s case, he realised after some months that his lawyer was not doing enough to help him with his WIC claim. Harun decided to take action on his own, and approached MOM for help to get compensation for his work injuries. At first, he was quite worried, as he speaks little English. But he felt at ease once he arrived at the MOM Services Centre, as his attending officer arranged for a Bengali interpreter to help him with his concerns.  

Filing a work injury compensation claim under WICA is easy, as MOM provides help to workers in many languages 

Workers who approach MOM can explain their problems and needs in the language that they are most comfortable in. MOM has interpreters on hand at the MOM Services Centre to assist in languages such as Mandarin, Tamil, Malay, Bengali and other languages if needed. 

Information brochures on WIC are available in many languages. Letters on WIC claims are also translated into the various native languages, such as Chinese, Tamil, and Bengali. Through these efforts, we hope that workers become confident enough to complete their WIC claims on their own.

Step #3: Undergoing medical assessment for permanent incapacity and receiving Notice of Assessment of compensation 

As the injuries of William, Xingfa and Harun were serious, it could result in permanent incapacity (PI) which is compensable under the WICA. Time was needed for their injuries to stabilise before their treating doctors could determine the percentage of PI and inform MOM accordingly. Only then can MOM issue a Notice of Assessment (NOA) to inform the employee, employer and insurer of the compensation amount. If there is no objection, the PI compensation amount would be paid. 

We understand that the recovery period and wait for the doctor’s assessment can be a difficult time for the injured worker. During this time, employers are responsible for the worker’s upkeep and maintenance. This includes providing adequate food, ensuring acceptable housing as well as paying any medical leave wages and medical bills. Employers who fulfil their legal responsibilities will go some way towards easing the worries of their injured workers.

 Employer’s responsibilities under WICA

Under WICA, employers are required to pay for the injured worker’s medical expenses (cap of $30,000 or one year from date of accident, whichever is reached first) and pay medical leave wages (up to one year from date of accident) to the injured worker no later than the usual payday. MOM will take the necessary enforcement action against non-payment of medical expenses or when medical leave wages are not paid on time. 

Workers who do not receive the necessary medical attention or payment for medical leave wages should approach MOM immediately.

In fact, Xingfa’s employer went a step further. Xingfa explained, “The company was also concerned about my emotional stability, so they arranged for a counsellor to talk to me regularly.” The counsellor played an important role, as he checked on Xingfa’s mental well-being, and updated him about the progress of his WIC claim on behalf of his employer. 

Xingfa was happy with the NOA when he received it. “I found my compensation amount reasonable. But most importantly, it was based on the doctor’s report and recommendation.” he said. 

Things to note

There are some things for injured workers to note during this period. First, injured workers should continue staying at the accommodation that their employers provide, and keep in touch with their employers. This was what Xingfa and William did during their recovery, and this made it easier for their employers to keep track of and pay the medical expenses they incurred. 

Second, to ensure employers are aware of the medical expenses incurred and pay the medical leave wages on time, it is important for injured workers to promptly hand to their employers the originals of their medical documents from their visits to the doctor treating them.

In Harun’s case, on the advice of an ex-colleague, he chose not to stay in the accommodation provided by his employer, but to stay on his own. Harun’s employer continued to pay for his medical expenses and medical leave wages, but these suddenly ceased one day. Though alarmed, Harun expected his lawyer to resolve the issue. He said, “I approached the lawyer many times for my doctor visit, MC wages (and) medical bills. (The) lawyer couldn’t do anything.”

A few months later, frustrated with his lawyer’s inaction, Harun approached MOM for assistance. His case officer followed up on his case immediately. She found out that Harun’s employer had not been receiving the originals of his medical documents, and was thus unaware that he was still incurring medical expenses. Harun’s case officer helped him submit the required documents, and followed up closely with his employer. Despite having a lawyer, Harun still had to personally follow up with many aspects of his case. As MOM provided him with the assistance he needed, Harun subsequently discharged his lawyer. Within weeks, Harun received his NOA, and was fully paid the compensation he was due.

How long does it all take?

Most WIC claims involving PI take under six months to resolve. The resolution of such claims is made possible not just through the efforts of MOM, but also because the injured workers’ employers did their part.

Some cases take longer to resolve if the injury is serious, if there are multiple injuries and time is needed for the condition to stabilise, or if there are objections which MOM has to adjudicate to ensure a fair outcome. In rare cases, this can take more than a year. Harun’s case took longer, as his eye injury required more time to heal and stabilise. 

Back to work

After their recovery, William and Xingfa continued to work for the same employer. As Harun’s injury rendered him unsuitable for the construction work he was doing, he returned home after receiving his work injury compensation. 

Despite this, Harun is satisfied with help MOM rendered. He said, “In my opinion, we Bangladeshi workers who are injured at work do not need to engage the lawyer or look for any (other) assistance. We can all come to MOM on our own.” 

William agreed with Harun. “I want to advise all workers – if you got injury at your workplace, no need to worry. You can see MOM officer, they are willing to help you,” said William. 
Approach MOM for assistance 

The majority of WIC claimants, like William and Xingfa, find the WIC claim process to be smooth sailing. There will be those which may not be as problem-free. And sometimes, such stories are played up without full facts in online fora.   

For example, an article had alleged that an employer attempted to force an injured worker to sign a document stating that his injury was not work-related and to give up his claim. MOM investigated the incident. It turned out that the employer was actually asking the worker to sign MOM’s WICA claim application form. There was no indication that the employer intended to shirk his responsibilities either, as they had been paying the worker’s medical bills and medical leave wages promptly. 

Another article insinuated that MOM had stood by while an injured worker was denied food and lodging by his employer. Contrary to what was written, the worker himself had refused his employer’s offer through the Ministry to provide food and lodging on at least two occasions. 

Yet another article recounted the experience of an injured worker who had yet to receive compensation five years from the accident. The writer criticised the WIC process for being “absurdly slow” when the worker had withdrawn his claim under WICA a year after the accident to pursue his case under the common law. 

Such unsubstantiated online stories perpetuate fear and misperceptions among workers. They also unfairly disparage the work done by our officers in the Work Injury Compensation Department. Nevertheless, we will not be daunted, and will continue to do our utmost for the injured workers, local or foreign. 

We urge injured workers to promptly come to MOM for assistance if their employers are not fulfilling their responsibilities.  For those who do read this, please help to spread the word! 

MOM’s Work Injury Compensation Department 

In a coming article, we will share the experiences of some fellow Singaporean workers who claimed work injury compensation under WICA. So stay tuned!

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