WORKER’S COMPENSATION CORNER with MAYBIN NKHOLOMBA
MUCH has been said about meagre monthly disability pensions accruing to workers for occupational injuries and diseases, and we have heard and given high consideration to the urgent and most pressing issue of improving compensation benefits.
So far, we have made steady progress to improve the monthly pensions by indexing them to the consumer price index of Zambia, and also a 30 percent upward adjustment granted in 2015. We anticipate another increase sometime this year.
As those efforts are being made on monthly pensions, other efforts seeking to turn around the operations of the Fund through re-organisation of systems are being made. These include, the proposed amendment to the Workersâ€™ Compensation Act No. 10 of 1999 of the Laws of Zambia, care and support programme and the safe workers of tomorrow programme.
Presently, there are some attractive benefits that we give to our beneficiaries, which we would like to share with our readers today. The present Act provides for, among other things, commutation of monthly pensions to yield lump sum payments for the purpose of venturing into business activities.
For instance, Section 81 states that â€œwhere the pension exceeds the prescribed amount, the Commissioner may, upon the application of the worker, instead of a portion of the pension, pay or order the payment of a lump sum not exceeding the maximum sum which would have been payable â€¦..had the pension not exceeded the prescribed amount.â€
We have taken advantage of this provision to reach out to many of our beneficiaries in order to convince them to make applications to commute part, and in some cases even, total monthly pensions to yield lump sums, which can be used for various causes.
Through commutations, many pensioners have been able to venture into businesses, while others have opted to purchase low cost houses. This week we bring out one pensioner who has successfully utilised the commutation facility to open a school.
In what appears to be confirmation of the adage â€˜education is the key to successâ€™, pensioner Joseph Daka of house number 2903 in Lubuto Chintu in Ndola has turned to education for his livelihood after sustaining 40 percent permanent disability, following a road traffic accident in which he was involved while working as sales person for Roan Chemicals in 1996.
Mr Daka applied to the commissioner for part commutation of his monthly pension in 2002 for the purpose of venturing into a business. In that same year, he opened Young Kids Pre-school, which has now been upgraded to grade seven with 200 pupils enrolled.
Mr Daka informed this author in an interview that he was compelled to open a pre-school when he lost employment, following an accident and what appeared to have been a small project has now grown into a reputable school to support children in his area access high quality education.
Our rehabilitation unit has been working closely with him to monitor progress over the years and it is pleasing to learn from him that the local authority has granted his school a plot in Mitengo residential area in Ndola for construction of a secondary school.
Mr Daka is clearly determined to put behind his disablement and contribute to national development through provision of education to the young in his community.
He admits that running a school has tempted him to study teaching and he is considering enrolling in one of the teaching courses in Zambia by next year.
Mr Daka commended the Fund for the assistance he has received since he suffered disability in 1996. Readers may wish to know that the Fund, through its rehabilitation programme, also sponsored Mr Daka to study a two-year course in electronics at the National Vocational Rehabilitation Centre in Ndola.
He has since completed this course and he intends to open a radio and television repair workshop to diversify his business.
Mr Daka is an example of what a determined person can achieve despite restrictive physical conditions which most people blame for the destitution in which they find themselves. And Mr Daka has advised fellow pensioners not to rely on monthly pensions for survival, adding that it will never be enough to meet all the costs of living.
â€œMost of my fellow pensioners resign to fate and keep hoping for increases on their monthly pension instead of submitting project proposals to the Fund, which can be supported as the case was with my proposal,â€ Mr Daka observed.
We totally agree with Mr Dakaâ€™s valid observations. Many of our people consider monthly pensions as salary replacement. They believe that the monthly pension must be adequate to meet all their living expenses.
This remains a major attitudinal problem, which we must resolve and it does not only involve disability pensions, but also old age retirement pensions. What we must understand is that disability pension is a replacement of the lost capacity to earn an income.
It relates directly to the degree of loss suffered, the salary at the time of accident, age and compensable earning provided in the law. We have cases where a worker was assessed at 11 percent degree of disability and they expect monthly pension to be as high as their last salary at the time of the accident.
This is not tenable at all. Monthly pension cannot exceed the extent of disability at all. Compensation, for all its purposes, is only supposed to provide financial and other forms of relief to the disabled within the limitations of the law and other actuarial factors that determine values payable.
The author is Workersâ€™ Compensation Fund Control Board corporate affairs and customer services manager.
WORKER’S COMPENSATION CORNER with MAYBIN NKHOLOMBA