The Work Injury Compensation Bill was passed on 3 September 2019 by parliament. The bill will repeal and reenact with amendments the current Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA) effective 1 September 2020, while amendments to related subsidiary legislation are slated to take effect from as early as January 2020. The objective of the bill is simple: to entrench Singapore’s position among the world’s best for workplace safety and health. To that end, the amendments will:

  • encourage employers to adopt precautionary measures to prevent injuries in the workplace;
  • expedite the processing of claims;
  • enhance protection for employees; and
  • provide greater assurance to employers when buying work injury compensation insurance.

We consider in greater detail below the changes to the current WICA regime.

Prevention of Injuries in the Workplace

The Work Injury Compensation Bill tackles the issue of work-related injuries at its source by obligating certain work injury compensation insurers to share policy and claims data with the commissioner, who will in turn share such data with other designated insurers. With a higher degree of information transparency, employers with better safety records would be able to enjoy lower premiums, whereas those with poor safety records would be obliged to pay higher premiums. It is hoped that this will incentivize employers to implement measures to prevent employees from suffering injuries in the first place.

Expediting the Processing of Claims

Another pitfall of the current WICA regime is the lengthy amount of time required to process and resolve such claims. To expedite this procedure, the bill will introduce the following amendments:

  • Allowing compensation to be based on current incapacity. Approximately 20 percent of claims for permanent incapacity currently take more than six months to reach a resolution. The bill will allow for permanent incapacity compensation to be based on the state of incapacity, assessed at least six months after an accident.
  • Designated insurers to process claims. Currently, claims made under WICA are bifurcated as follows: claims relating to death and permanent incapacity, which are processed by the commissioner for labour; and claims relating to temporary incapacity, which are processed by insurers. In contrast, under the bill, insurers will process all claims. In addition, to ensure that injured employees receive compensation promptly, insurers must meet certain processing timelines set by the commissioner.

Enhancing Protection for Employees

Previously, employers were only required to purchase work injury compensation insurance for manual employees, i.e. those working in factories or earning a salary below S$1,600 a month. The Work Injury Compensation Bill will eventually extend mandatory insurance coverage in two phases to include all employees earning a salary of up to $2,600 a month, regardless of their workplace:

  • In 2020, the monthly salary threshold will be increased to S$2,100; and
  • In 2021, the monthly salary threshold will be increased to S$2,600.

Other pro-employee amendments include: (i) compensating injured employees who are put on light duties for their lost earnings; (ii) requiring employers to report work-related medical leave or light duties to the Ministry of Manpower; (iii) allowing employees to switch doctors when they believe they are being unfairly assessed by a company appointed doctor; and (iv) increasing compensation limits to account for growing healthcare costs (this amendment in particular will take effect from January 2020).

Providing More Certainty to Employers

The all-inclusive bill also provides safeguards for employers and insurers alike. For example, where an employee provides fraudulent or erroneous information in relation to a claim under WICA, and the employer or insurer has, in paying for the medical expenses, permanent incapacity or death compensation, relied on such information, the commissioner may order the employee to refund the employer or insurer.

In addition, the commissioner may prescribe a core set of standard terms for WICA-compliant policies to ensure that such policies provide sufficient coverage for employers’ WICA liabilities. To that end, only insurers which are approved by the commissioner may sell WICA-compliant policies―any unauthorised persons who do so face the imposition of a maximum fine of S$800,000.

Conclusion

On 4 November 2019, a construction crane collapsed at a work site in Novena, killing a construction worker who was the sole breadwinner of his family, which includes his elderly parents, younger brother and wife who is expecting their first child. The estimated six-month wait for the death compensation claim will cause considerable hardship for the family in the interim period. This tragic accident serves as a sober reminder of the need to make every effort to guarantee workplace safety, and should such tragedy occur, to provide timely assistance to a family already grieving the loss of a loved one. The enactment of the bill is a step in this direction.