Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), a migrant worker advocacy group, has expressed serious concern about the recent surge in cases where injured workers receive inadequate or no medical leave wages (MC wages).
These workers find themselves in significant financial distress, facing the loss of dignity, and are often compelled to borrow money from friends or seek assistance from non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
In a recent article, TWC2 criticized what they perceive as a retrograde shift in the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) stance, specifically concerning the prompt payment of medical leave wages by employers.
TWC2 characterized this shift as a “pro-elite and anti-worker” move, emphasizing the transfer of business risks from companies to individual workers.
Increased MOM’s approval of employers withholding MC wages, citing ongoing claims assessment
In an article titled “MC Wages: Despite Law, Injured Workers Left to Beg for Money,” TWC2 revealed that, in several cases involving injured migrant workers, they reached out to the MOM.
From the responses they received, TWC2 said it appears that there was a significant increase in MOM’s approval of employers withholding payments in 2023.
The ministry allegedly justified these delays by stating that insurers were still in the process of assessing the validity of claims.
“There appears to be no time limit as to how long such a validity check can take, even if delays for over a month eviscerate the intent of the law to provide prompt relief.”
TWC2 highlighted one typical case, an injured worker named R waited eight months to receive his MC wages, and this delay was exacerbated by the prolonged investigation.
Only after the investigation validated R’s claim was he informed about the reason for the initial non-payment. The overall process under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA) is characterized by silence and opacity.
Throughout those eight months, R endured severe financial hardship, prompting him to borrow money from friends and seek assistance from NGOs.
TWC2 said this situation not only stripped him of his dignity but also rendered him unable to support his family during this challenging period — a stark contrast to the protection WICA was designed to provide.
“Interestingly, from some cases that TWC2 has handled, it seems to TWC2 that MOM is less likely to endorse the non-payment of medical expenses but more likely to condone the non-payment of MC wages.”
“Possibly, this is because withholding medical expenses could impede injured workers’ recovery – in economic terms, it is called preservation of asset value. ”
“MOM can therefore be accused of cherry-picking MC wages as a suspendable entitlement while medical expenses are not so easily suspended.”
TWC2 has strongly criticized what they perceive as a “retrograde shift” in the MOM position, favouring employers and insurers over workers’ rights.
The group emphasized that the wording in Sections 16 and 17 of the WICA suggests a legislative intent to ensure timely medical care and the financial stability of injured workers and their families.
Explaining the compensation framework specifically designed for work-related injuries under WICA, TWC2 pointed out that validity investigations, conducted by insurers to establish the occurrence of workplace injuries, can be protracted, extending for months and even over a year.
However, TWC2 drew attention to a critical gap in the legislation, noting the absence of explicit guidelines or provisions outlining the process that insurers should follow during these investigations, along with a lack of specified timelines.
There is no mention of the suspension of a worker’s entitlement to medical expenses or MC wages during ongoing investigations.
TWC2 further highlighted that WICA’s Sections 16(5) and 17(5) outline a recourse for employers to reclaim compensation if a claim is later deemed invalid or false.
Section 54(4) empowers the Commissioner to order the claimant to refund or reimburse any overpayment.
Highlighting a statement made by Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Minister of State for Manpower, in 2019, TWC2 noted that the Commissioner can order the refund of medical leave wages if a claim is withdrawn, the accident is determined not to be work-related, or if it is deemed a false claim.
Zaqy proposed an extension of the refund concept to lump sum compensation and medical expenses, as outlined in Clauses 16 and 54 of the Bill, empowering the Commissioner to order the claimant to refund the employer (or insurer) in cases of compensation paid due to error or false information.
TWC2 mentioned that an advisory supporting the idea of compensations being disbursed during ongoing investigations used to be on MOM’s website.
However, TWC2 discovered that the advisory has since been taken down, and the reason for its removal is unknown.
TWC2 accuses MOM of favouring employers at the expense of injured workers’ well-being
TWC2 suggested that MOM may have removed the advisory to soften its enforcement policy during the investigation process.
Despite the Commissioner’s authority to mandate workers to refund money to employers, TWC2 highlights the difficulty in enforcing such directives when workers lack the financial means to comply.
TWC2 accused MOM of prioritizing employers’ interests over the medical care and livelihood of injured workers, contradictory to the social protection intent of WICA, which is designed to provide support and compensation to workers injured on the job.
“MOM’s walking back from the stance of requiring employers to pay medical leave wages promptly is a move that recalls a critique often levelled at hyper-capitalism: shifting business risk from businesses to individual workers. ”
“The risk that employers are relieved of through official action is a financial risk. ”
“The risk that workers are now burdened with (with official blessing) is one where they either fail to get adequate medical treatment and thus suffer permanent physical disability as a result, and/or the stress and penury that comes with loss of financial support (including poor nutrition through delays in MC wages, thus slowing recovery).”
Such a policy direction is pro-elite and anti-worker, said TWC2.
The group suggested that any lack of viable mechanisms for employers to seek recourse, in case the injury is found not to be work-related, should be rectified through amendments to WICA’s provisions.
They advocate for establishing a more robust safety net for employers instead of relying on MOM’s selective interpretation, which they argue unfairly disadvantages and dehumanizes injured workers.
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