Compensation for workers’ injuries in the spotlight

Compensation for workers’ injuries in the spotlight

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COMPENSATION for injuries at work is in the spotlight after a hasty amendment to the Compensation for Occupational Diseases and Injuries Act Amendment Bill, which proposes to slow down the dysfunctional Compensation Fund, has drawn the ire of activists, professional and civic organisations.

The fund affects farmworkers, fishermen, builders, security guards, nurses, paramedics, factory workers and kitchen staff, among others.

Last year, Parliament’s portfolio committee on employment and labour heard how Clause 43 would, if promulgated, cause the cession of medical invoices by medical service providers to any financial institutions or third party administrators as collateral.

The furore is that the Compensation Fund is perennially incapable of dealing with the about 1 000 daily injury occurrences in the workplace, leaving it with a backlog above 150 000 cases dating back years while it cited IT glitches.

Workers, waiting an inordinate amount of time for compensation, fear that they might have nowhere to go as medical service providers insist on cash for treatment to avoid the obligation to individually pile up to bottleneck the overladen Compensation Funds claims system.

In 2019, the Compensation Fund replaced its system with a new Sapbased system called Compeasy (S4i) with a R300 million price tag.

Grave concern over the situation last year led to the launch of an emergency council of concerned industry leaders, the Injured Workers

Action Group (Iwag), which is pushing the government to address the crisis swiftly.

It said pre-funding third parties would remove the opportunity for fraud, clean up claims and assist the Compensation Fund with its efficiencies.

“Workers will be forced to turn to public health facilities, be delayed in treatment and only return to work, if at all, weeks or months later. This is a human cost and in immense cost to our fragile economy,” said Iwag spokesperson Tim Hughes.

Iwag said the Auditor-general had issued only one disclaimer against the Compensation Fund in 10 years, meaning it had not submitted its financials.

“This means no one knows exactly what the fund’s financial status is, only what the fund declares in its annual report. What has come out quite clearly over the past few weeks as both Scopa and the committee on labour probe the Compensation Fund is that its systems are inadequate, its employees do not have the correct skills and there is a serious lack of consequence management,” Hughes said.

Appearing before the committee recently, Compensation Commissioner Vuyo Mafata said the improvement of its audit outcomes would be one of the key strategic focus areas and it was committed to reducing issues affecting the audit outcome by 75 percent in the current financial year.

It aimed to attain an unqualified audit opinion by 2024.

Asked by the portfolio committee about the new computer system, Mafata said R128m had been shelled out for the development and configuration of the system. A service provider had been contracted to provide support and regular maintenance of the system daily. He said the fund had paid R51m in the past 17 months for the use of the system.

Projected revenue for 2021/22 was R19.3 billion, increasing to R22bn in 2023/24. Projected expenditure for 2021/22 was R13.7bn, increasing to R14.4bn in 2023/24

The president of the United Domestic Workers of South Africa Union, Pinky Mashiane, said that if the government removed the areas of the fund that were functioning, they would effectively be undermining the level of care that domestic workers were being promised and remove the true benefits of being a beneficiary, Mashiane said.

“It is for this reason that we are opposed to the inclusion of Section 43 of the Amendment Bill,” she said.

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