Where Have All The Reformers Gone?
Memories, but not always sweet.
You all know the feeling at the end of the year when the calm sets in and you have time to do some introspection. You take stock of the matters encountered during the year. When reminiscing about the past, and not only the past twelve months but as far back as the beginning of the nineties, I suddenly remembered all the articles that were published – especially those in the law and medical journals - calling for immediate reform of the then 1941 workmen’s compensation legislation. The contingent of experts from the legal profession, trade union representatives, medical profession and academics, as usual, had a lot to say about how the Act should be amended.
This reform drive culminated in a “Conference on the Reform of Workers’ Compensation Legislation” which was held in March 1992. To verify, if necessary, you can read some of the contributions in the “Industrial Law Journal”, Volume 13, Part 6 1992. A lot of valid points and recommendations were made at this conference. The gist of most of the arguments was the concern that employees are not adequately compensated, especially for occupational diseases. Delays in some of the processes were also a worry. Lee Bozalek, Legal Resources Centre, Cape Town, for example, was worried about the small number of objections against the decisions by the then Workmen’s Compensation Commissioner. “It strains credulity that, for example, during the 1990 year in which 250 000 plus accidents were reported.. only 331 workmen (sic) were unhappy with decisions…” (See page 1356). In plain language, the experts were not happy that the rights of the injured employees were not properly exercised, mostly because of the nature and attitude of the “system”. Not a word about the status of the assistance and training by their unions.
The bill that was published on 11 December 1992 did take some of the experts’ concerns into account such as a radical improvement regarding the number of occupational diseases and the method of compensating the employees suffering from the diseases. This bill eventually became the COID Act which came into force on 1 March 1994.
The situation 15 years later
So now we have a new Act since 1994 and a new “system” since 1995. Did the employees’ plight improve?
As far as the legislation is concerned, undoubtedly yes. As far as the administration of the legislation is concerned, I have serious doubts. The number of complaints about lengthy delays and unnecessary litigation emanating from strange decisions taken by Compensation Commissioner’ office does not look promising. During December several senior officials of that office were suspended according to the press. All this cannot enhance performance and service to the people for whose sake the legislation was created.
After all the stock taking of the past and the present, as summarized above, I came to the conclusion that a follow up conference by the old and new reformers should be held to debate whether the system that worried them in 1992 - and long before that - has really been improved to their satisfaction. Is the present legislation and the associated administration really that much of an improvement? The unions need to be involved as they are in terms of their mandates obliged to ensure that their members are fairly treated, something that I do not see happening at the moment.
To Do Month
January is the month in which you must list all the tasks to be performed for the 2008 administration. Remember to include checking your Government Gazette Notices for:
A new Earnings Limit;
A new Schedule 4 (Calculation of Benefits);
Critical dates for specific tasks such as submission of Return of Earnings; etc, etc
Till next time.