It is undeniable that Botswana’s labour market has grown and with this obviously comes massive developments and changes. While most of these developments have led to improved outcomes in the economy, they unfortunately also meant that workers are more exposed to hazards than ever before which at times lead to injuries and occupational diseases, hence the need for compensation. Workers’ compensation for injuries suffered and occupational diseases contracted in the course of their employment or for death resulting from such injuries will obviously mean that the employer or the insurance company contracted by the employer for such foot the bill.
Workers raw deal
This is where unfortunately workers are usually given a raw deal. The Worker’s Compensation Act, whose mandate is to guide the employer on the provision for compensation of workers for injuries suffered or occupational diseases contracted in the course of their employment or for death resulting from such injuries has however – according to some experts – failed to do such entirely. And has hence provided some loopholes which employers use to cheat workers of what is due to them. “The Worker’s Compensation Act needs to be reviewed, especially where it does not specify the percentage of harm and incapabilities to be allocated by a practitioner to a worker who has suffered injury or an occupational disease during the course of their work,” said Dr Tuelo Ntwaagae of Meriting Medical Centre. Dr Ntwaagae was making a presentation on worker’s compensation claims from a medical perspective on Wednesday in Gaborone during a Workers Compensation Insurance Forum hosted by Insurance Institute of Botswana. According to Dr Ntwaagae, health practitioners should familiarise themselves with the Workers’ Compensation Act to execute their mandate accordingly and in the best interest of workers. He urged insurance companies to invest in and engage relevant specialised experts, especially in the medical sector to reach a fair and informed decision when processing workers claims during compensation. “There is a lot of confusion and delays when processing workers’ claims. Some of these issues arise because the matter was delayed as a result of a patient being sent to the wrong practitioner,” he said. Reiterating Dr Ntwaagae’s sentiments, the Commissioner for Worker’s Compensation Gertrude Mack agreed that there were instances where the Worker’s Compensation Act has proven to have shortcomings and fail workers.
According to Mack, the Ministry of Employment, Labour, Productivity and Skills Development was currently working on rectifying these anomalies. The Minister has even engaged the president on such and will be mapping a way forward soon, she said. She noted that if employers were dealing with workers in honesty and good faith they would not be a lot of grievances from workers despite the act’s short comings. “The problem now is that some of the employers if not most are hard hearted and are mostly after profits, hence they see compensating workers for injuries and occupational diseases as not a necessity,” Mack said. She also noted that some insurance companies are taking advantage of loopholes provided by the Workers’ Compensation Act. She, however, explained that her department is in the meantime utilising the medical board as the tie breaker, whenever they feel workers are hard done by their employers and insurance companies. The medical board, which consists of three medical doctors, one attorney and one person qualified and experienced in a labour related profession, has its primary function being to determine medical disputes on degrees of incapacity and such other medical questions arising in relation to any claim for compensation. For her part, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Employment, Labour, productivity and Skills development, Pearl Ramokoka said employers have a duty to protect their employees from occupational hazards. “The employer’s duty includes registration of a factory, ensuring its cleanliness and safety, free from effluvia arising from infrastructural deficiencies (e.g. sewage, dust, pollution) checking and ensuring machinery is safe and supervised at operations, taking all necessary and practical measures to ensure persons employed are protected from hazards (i.e. harmful fumes) provision of protective clothing and measures, reporting injuries and occupational diseases. Where accidents and fatalities occur, compensation must be issued,” she said.
According to Ramokoka, government mandates employers to assume responsibility of compensating their workers for industrial accidents and diseases and those individual employers are required to cover this liability by purchasing an insurance policy.