Calls to scrap proposed amendments to workmen’s compensation legislation
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Durban -The South African Medical Association, (SAMA) the United Domestic Workers of South Africa and the Injured Workers Action Group (IWAG) have called for the scrapping of a proposed major amendment in the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Bill that they claim will “weaken” the position of claimants who are already struggling to get the fund to pay up.
Tim Hughes, spokesperson for IWAG, a coalition of affected and concerned parties, including healthcare practitioners and injured workers, who advocate for the efficient and effective functioning of the Compensation Fund, said yesterday that there was “no legal justification” for the proposed amendment to Section 43 of the Act, which would remove the right of medical service providers to use external administrators to lodge claims with the fund. According to IWAG these third parties play a critical role in ensuring medical service providers invoices are paid timeously, while removing the cumbersome administrative, financial and legal burden from healthcare professionals.
Hughes said IWAG was calling for the removal of Section 43 from the legislation as the use of administrators was the only functional aspect of the “dysfunctional fund” that kept claimants waiting years for payment.
“We cannot see any justification for the introduction of Section 43. Neither the Minister nor the Department of Employment and Labour, much less the Compensation Fund, have provided any reasonable rationale for the amendment. Given that medical service providers, who treat injured on duty patients in good faith, will not be able to cede their invoices to financial institutions or third-party administrators for early payment or access to overdrafts, there is a real risk that their practices are forced into financial distress or collapse if Section 43 is adopted,” Hughes said.
“More concerning is that because of the financial risk, the introduction of Section 43 will discourage many healthcare providers from treating workers who are injured on duty, thereby significantly reducing the pool of care, and placing additional pressure on an already strained public healthcare system,” he said.
Hughes said the only possible reason for the change was to weaken the position of claimants and strengthen the fund, which was reluctant to pay claims, as administrators had repeatedly taken the fund to court, and won every case, forcing it to pay up. He said healthcare practitioners would not have the resources to fight in court on their own.
However, he said a positive amendment was the inclusion of more than a million domestic workers as beneficiaries of the fund although they would also be negatively impacted by Section 43.
United Domestic Workers of South Africa Union (UDWOSA) president Pinky Mashiane welcomed the inclusion of domestic workers but said the union was opposed to Section 43.
“Our inclusion will only have value if the system works. If the government removes the areas of the fund that actually function, they will effectively be undermining the level of care that domestic workers are being promised, and remove the true benefits of being a beneficiary,” Mashiane said.
“Domestic workers need third party administrators to benefit from the Compensation Fund. Otherwise they will be sent to hospitals and back to the Compensation fund office and back and forth until they have exhausted the little money they had and end up giving up, while they will never have social security. Some domestic workers will die waiting for their compensation funds in the queues at the Department of Labour offices,” she said.
SA Medical Association chairperson, Dr Angelique Coetzee, said the amendment should be scrapped.
“The extent of the pressure and burden faced by our country’s medical service providers has been exposed over the past year as they battle to save lives and treat the millions of patients infected by Covid-19. Many of these patients have been infected while at work, which means their treatment is covered by the provisions of the COID Act,” Coetzee said.
“It’s clear that medical service providers have less time than ever to manage the administrative processes required to secure payment from the fund. Without third party administrators, medical service providers will need to carve out hours in their frantic days in an attempt to submit claims on a system that just doesn’t work.”
Public comments regarding the amendments must be submitted to the Portfolio Committee on Employment and Labour, for the attention of Mr Zolani Sakasa [email protected]