WORKERS COMPENSATION CORNER with MAYBIN NKHOLOMBA
BEING injured on duty brings more than just physical pain, along with actual injuries. There are also concerns for the worker on how to receive or pay for treatment and what kind of compensation is available including who will compensate the worker.
The most pressing of all concerns is how much compensation is payable. Normally there is so much expectation, and understandably so, on the monetary aspects of the compensation package. In our country and many others in the world, it is common to come across complaints such as “I was injured on duty and my compensation is not enough”. Readers may recall press reports in the past which have quoted sections of society complaining about compensation benefits and how these are not enough compared to one’s suffering and pain. Indeed adequacy of benefits is a topical issue which we must state is receiving active attention not only in our country but the global village as well. So far measures implemented to improve compensation benefits include the introduction of minimum monthly pension, increasing of the threshold for permanent disability and indexation of monthly pension payments to the consumer price index of Zambia.
However, there are preconceived notions about compensation informing much of the myths and misconceptions which we would like to share with you today. Many workers believe that when they get injured or lose their loved ones, they will get rich from a compensation package from the Workers’ Compensation Fund Control Board (WCFCB) and their employer. One employee on the Copperbelt called me to inquire about the amount of compensation he was expecting for his injury.
When I asked him what he was expecting, the answer was very interesting. He was expecting millions of Kwacha. He did not relate compensation to his income, the contribution made by his employer (in terms of the limits in the Workers’ Compensation Act) and the extent of his injury. This is common even in advanced countries where employees have been known to cause accidents in order to receive compensation and when it is given, complaints of it being inadequate arise.
Readers need to know that compensation for injury is not a welfare pay and nobody can get rich from compensation. Workers, compensation is as a matter of fact a type of insurance prescribed within the social security framework of our country to protect employees and employers in the event of occupational accidents and diseases. Normally, employees give up their right to sue in exchange for no fault benefits which are given by the central fund into which employers are required by law to make contributions otherwise known as assessments on annual basis.
At the moment, employers make contributions up to a ceiling of K800 per month or K9,600 per year. The contributions are not uniform but subject to risk classification with the highest being mining industries that contribute at 14.47 and 2.82 percent for the lowest contributor. It follows naturally that compensation will also be calculated using contribution rates, degree of disablement, salary at time of the accident and even age.
It is essentially paid for loss of earning capacity, and the earning capacity according to the present law is fixed at K800 per month. Ideally, any assumptions and expectations about compensation must be informed to a great extent by factors such as contribution rates and degree of disability to arrive at a reasonable conclusion.
What becomes more critical to understand is the issue of dependence for workers who die without leaving a spouse and children. In this case, compensation is paid to a surviving parent who depended on the deceased for livelihood. For guardians who were not living with the worker at the time of death, partial dependence package is given.
However, it is common to receive complaints about the value of benefits given as families often assume that 100 percent of lost wages, without reference to ceilings for compensable earnings for the worker, must be given to them even when it is established that they did not wholly depend on the worker at the time of death.
For workers who die and are survived by a spouse and children aged 18 years and below, widows pension is awarded together with child allowances meant to support their school requirements. In our opinion, the allowances if applied for the intended purpose are adequate to meet basic school needs in the form of fees and other requisites.
The other misconception which we want to address is that claims take too long to conclude. Readers need to understand that in many instances, we are compelled to search for employers especially contractors and suppliers to obtain reports of accidents and it takes time especially if an employer is eluding on account of non-compliance with the Workers’ Compensation Act. The law as it stands now provides that we must compensate a worker regardless of the compliance status of their employer, and when accidents occur, non-compliant employers elude. It takes us a long time to find them. And when benefits are delayed, our clients, and understandably so, make complaints to us and other stakeholders.
The author is Head of Communications and Customer Services at the Workers’ Compensation Fund Control Board
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