Injured workers, and widows, face long wait for payouts

Labourers who suffer serious accidents on work sites say the compensation they receive under the law is too little and too slow to arrive

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 April, 2013, 7:25am

When construction worker Yu Yiu-wing went to work on October 25 last year, he could not have expected an accident to put him out of work for the next six months, and counting.

Yu, 37, sustained neck and head injuries in a platform collapse that killed one worker and injured 13 others.

The platform, then holding 21 workers, dropped two metres down a 31-metre-wide steel caisson, a large pipe used to form foundations for bridges, during reclamation for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge project near Chek Lap Kok airport.

"We were pulling the metal chains to raise the work platform manually, when the chains suddenly broke," Yu says.

"The electricity meant to power the platform was down and that was why we had to move it up by hand. If we had not been facing a tight schedule, we would not have done it manually."

Yu broke bones in his neck, right wrist, right leg and skull, and has been using a neck stabiliser to recover.

He receives periodic payments of 80 per cent of his monthly income at the time of the accident, for up to two years, as set out in the Employees' Compensation Ordinance. Further compensation for loss of earning ability is likely.

Workers are also entitled to additional compensation, the amount of which depends on their age. Under the ordinance, Yu belongs to the category of injured workers under 40. That entitles him to payouts calculated two possible ways, with the one yielding the higher sum used.

Yu can receive eight years' earnings, capped at HK$23,580 per month and multiplied by the percentage of permanent loss in earning ability; or he can receive a minimum of HK$386,110, also multiplied by the permanent loss percentage. But either way, it's not enough, Yu says, to help support his three daughters, aged four to 13.

Huang Qiong, the widow of Chan Wing-chi, who died while working at the airport in October, agreed the law should be overhauled and the compensation increased. Her husband fell three metres from a work platform while renovating a shop.

He was 42 at the time, so his family of three is entitled to a payout of either five years' earnings capped at HK$23,580 a month, or a minimum of HK$310,000, whichever is higher.

Like Yu, they have yet to get the money. Huang, 40, shares his concern that the department is taking too long to process the compensation claims. The wait is usually a year. "It should be processed as quickly as possible so I don't have to think about it day and night," she said.