SA’s injured workers crippled by failed Compensation Fund system
Workers from across South Africa who have been injured on duty are facing “a crisis of epic proportions” as a result of the technological collapse of the R60-billion Compensation Fund that is legally mandated to cover their medical bills and disability pensions.
Grave concern over the situation has led to the official launch today of an emergency council of concerned industry leaders, the Injured Workers Action Group (IWAG). The group is calling on the government to address the crisis swiftly and is especially concerned about the Compensation Fund Commissioner Vuyo Mafata and Labour Department Director-General Thobile Lamati’s apparent failure to address industry’s calls for urgent remedial action.
Spokesperson for IWAG, Tim Hughes, says the severity of the matter cannot be underestimated. “If you look at the sheer number of vulnerable people who have now been failed by the system and left to fend for themselves under very trying circumstances, and the extent of that failure by the state and its technology partners, you’ll see that this is an untenable situation. Tens of thousands of families of injured workers, those workers’ medical caregivers and employers, and several critical industries in the economy, have all been struck a terrible blow here. This is a crisis of epic proportions and it is wreaking havoc on the economy at a scale that we are still in the process of quantifying.”
Impact of the crisis
Hughes explains: “Consider for a moment that a thousand workers on average are injured on duty in South Africa every single day. The backbone of SA’s economy, these are farmworkers, fishermen, builders, security guards, nurses, paramedics, factory workers, kitchen staff and many more. All of them rely on the Labour Department’s Compensation Fund to cover their medical costs, as prescribed by the law.
“These patients are supposed to be treated in private hospitals and by private physiotherapists, occupational therapists and other medical specialists, because they have special needs and require long-term rehabilitation, which state facilities are neither equipped nor mandated to supply to them. This is why the state has set up a fund to which all ±650 000 employers in this country are contributing ±R9-billion per annum. This fund must ensure that injured workers can claim for the medical care they need to enable them to return to work. And medical practitioners who devote their lives to working with Injury on Duty (IOD) patients, need to be compensated timeously - or face financial ruin.”
The department has long struggled with its claim system, and on 15 August 2019 switched off its previous uMehluko electronic system with the intention to migrate users to a new and improved system called CompEasy (S4i). It should have been live since 1 October 2019, but, says Hughes, CompEasy was “dead on arrival”. “The website never worked. The system was never parallel tested with the old one as you would expect when the stakes are this high. As a result, about 150 000 working-class South Africans who have been injured or disabled on duty since mid-2019 have been left out in the cold. And to make matters worse, the state granted a R300-million tender plus five years of maintenance fees to Britehouse, a division of Dimension Data, to implement this SAP-based system that is not working.”
“The technical failure of the system is now at such a level that, according to a large industry survey, only about 2,8% of injured workers have been able to submit claims since October 2019 and less than 1% have been paid, compared to 80% on the old system. This is scandalous. This is total systems collapse. One cannot underestimate the far-reaching devastation that this has caused for the lives and livelihoods of the injured blue-collar workers of this country and everyone around them,” says Hughes.
IWAG launched a Facebook Group today where they will post news and updates and is asking workers to share their complaints and concerns on the group so that it can be recorded and passed onto the Department of Labour and Compensation Fund.
They are also calling on workers, their employers and caregivers, and the leaders of corporate South Africa, to join them in appealing to Mr. Mafata directly to bring a swift end to the matter. “We need everyone to appeal to Mr. Mafata’s office to put pressure on him ahead of his second-quarter results presentation to parliament this Wednesday, on Budget Speech day. We also want to ask victims to use the #workerslivesmatter hashtag when they address the issue on social media so that we can create a groundswell of pressure on the government to solve this crisis or provide a temporary solution.”
IWAG Facebook Page