Sick workers denied cash

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 March, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 March, 1995, 12:00am

WORKERS contracting job-related illnesses are being denied millions of dollars in compensation because laws restrict the number of claimants, and because some victims do not bother to make claims.

And safety campaigners have singled out proposed legislation on occupational deafness for special criticism.

The Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident Victims chief executive, Chan Kam-hong, said the draft laws relating to deafness applied to just 17 industries, and only to workers who had been employed for more than 10 years.

'Under the new laws, it is very difficult to get compensation,' Mr Chan said. 'We have explained our anger to the Legislative Council manpower panel but we feel the Government won't change its mind because the financial burden is too big.' The Labour Department's occupational health division chief, Dr Lo Wai-kee, said about 1,000 people were expected to lodge claims after the legislation was passed later this year. But Mr Chan claims many workers suffering hearing impairment will be unable to claim compensation.

'We are happy the Government is doing something, but it is not enough,' he said.

The group wants the scheme widened to all industries and says the qualifying period must be shortened.

And the association wants the Government to change 1993 laws which altered the way compensation was paid to silicosis sufferers - from a lump sum to monthly payments.

Silicosis - or silica lung - develops when granite dust builds up in the lungs, causing breathing problems.

Those particularly at risk are construction workers employed to dig caissons by hand and quarry workers.

Silicosis cases number about 200 annually, but this figure is expected to drop dramatically over the next few years as a result of regulations which virtually outlaw foundation-construction methods which endanger workers.

Workers paid a lump sum before 1992 were now out of pocket compared to those who have claimed since. The association believes millions of dollars are at stake and it wants the Government to step in and top up the initial payments with pensions.

Mr Chan said: 'In the past few months we have talked to the Labour Department and the Environmental Protection Department to get them to change, but there has not been any reaction yet.' But the Government says its deliberate delays in processing of silicosis claims are aimed at ensuring workers get maximum benefits.

Just two claims were processed in 1991, compared with 103 in 1990 and 145 in 1989. But in 1992, 211 claims were settled when the monthly payment system took effect.

This figure rose by more than 50 per cent last year when 315 cases were considered.

Dr Lo said this increase was due to the fact that under the new scheme the department had reduced the amount of work 'to maximise the benefits to workers'.

Ironically, many workers who should have claimed compensation for skin diseases had not bothered, he said.

There were just 16 cases last year and seven in 1993. Dr Lo said: 'A lot more people could claim. Skin diseases are the most common form of occupational diseases.' He said no new legislation was planned after the deafness laws came into effect.

The association has attacked this as being too limited, saying compensation laws should be introduced to cover back pain.

'Twenty per cent of the people who ask us for help suffer from back pain problems,' Mr Chan said.

'Everybody who works is at risk. It is a very serious problem.'