CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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No teeth no bite in workplace compensation

HONG KONG (SE): The restricted compensation coverage offered to workers in Hong Kong for occupational injuries and the limited power over proceedings of the authorities add up to a lack of on-the-job protection, a report released by the Catholic Commission for Labour Affairs, together with the Diocesan Pastoral Centre for Employees (New Territories) on October 3, claims.

The report states that, unlike Hong Kong, governments in Taiwan, Japan and Britain are responsible for labour affairs and boards are empowered to make judgements about the facts of a particular case.

Consequently, the responsibility for occupational injuries and compensation lie with an insurance fund managed by governments.

Law Pui-shan, a policy research officer at the commission, said the compensation coverage and the definition of occupational injury in Hong Kong are highly restrictive compared with other regions.

She said the government should protect injured employees and shoulder the responsibility of settling disputes over occupational injuries and compensation payouts.

She added that the medical assessment mechanism in Hong Kong lacks an objective standard on which to judge the degree of damage, while in Taiwan, Japan and Britain an assessment standard related to the degree of permanent loss of functionality to different parts of the body has been set.

She added that the regulations governing the Employees’ Compensation Ordinance do not include injuries sustained on the way to or from work, or those incurred during work breaks.

However, there are regulations demanding compensation in Japan and Taiwan covering injuries or death during on-site work breaks.

Law described the Labour Department in Hong Kong as toothless, as it can do little to guarantee a benefit if the employer postpones compensation payment or does not admit responsibility for a workplace accident or occupational injury.

While an employer can be sued in court, prolonged legal procedures discourage many people from pursuing cases.

Lau Wah said while he was on leave after an industrial accident his employer did not release any compensation payments for a two-month period, which he believes is a way of pressuring him into accepting a low settlement agreement.

He explained that finally he hired a lawyer to pursue the case, but pointed out that since the Labour Department in Hong Kong has no power to make judgements and the responsibility for industrial accidents or occupational injuries lies with employers and insurance companies, they can take advantage of legal loopholes to deny claims without giving any reason.

He said he, like many other people, had no choice but to resort to the court.

Moreover, the report points out that compensation for work-related injuries in Taiwan, Japan and Britain are paid by an insurance fund set up and managed by governments.

However, in Hong Kong, they are paid through private insurance, even though the employer is required to take out the policy.

Yau Tze-wei, the programme officer for the Diocesan Pastoral Centre for Employees (New Territories), said an injured employee may find it hard to get compensation from a profit-oriented insurance company.

She believes that many of the cases reported to the centre show that the insurance companies that employers choose to use try to fob off injured employees and push them to back off by accepting low settlement agreements.

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