Increased personal accident insurance for FDWs set to increase but still not adequate

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Starting on 1 Oct 2017, employers of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in Singapore will have to provide increased insurance coverage for their maids.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced on Sunday (7 May) during a May Day celebration organised by the government labour movement that MOM will be making changes to the Personal Accident Insurance (PAI) requirements for FDWs to ensure that all FDWs continue to be adequately compensated should they become permanently disabled or passes away during their employment in Singapore.

Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan also announced the following changes on Sunday.

Minimum sum of PAI

Employers have to provide their maids with PAI of at least $60,000, up from the current $40,000, starting from 1 October 2017.

The $20,000  increase is expected to increase the annual premiums by about $7 to $15, MOM said.

The coverage of PAI

Today, different insurers provide different coverage for PAI, with some insurers taking a narrower definition of accidents and imposing more exclusions. As a result, some FDWs receive compensation for certain accidents, while others may not, even though the circumstances and injuries are the same.

To ensure that all FDWs and their beneficiaries receive the same protection, MOM will require that PAI cover all sudden, unforeseen, and unexpected incidents that results in the death or permanent disability of the FDW.

Insurers will not be permitted to impose additional conditions, exceptions, or exclusions, except those specified by the Controller for Work Passes, such as on pre-existing conditions and suicide.

Period of insurance cover

The period of PAI cover must be from the date the FDW first arrives in Singapore to the date the FDW returns to her country or, in the case where she is changing employers, to the date her new work permit is issued.

This is to ensure that FDWs are protected throughout their employment in Singapore, which has always been the intent of PAI, MOM stressed.

Allow FDWs to file claims

Employers are responsible for the filing of claims with insurers for accidents covered under PAI, however, there may be cases where the employer is unable to file the claims.

Changes will be made to allow FDWs or their Legal Representatives to file claims directly with insurers, MOM said.

In addition, in the event the FDW or next of kin is unable to file the claims themselves, an MOM-appointed representative can also be directed to act on their behalf.

Mr Tan noted that the last review of personal accident protection for maids made by the Government was in 2008. The Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE), a Government-Organised-Non-Government-Organisation (GONGO), has been asking the Government to do another review as the salaries of domestic helpers, as well as the cost of living in their home countries, have increased, Mr Tan said.

He said, “The changes will help employers better protect their maids at a slight increase in premiums, and give maids greater peace of mind.”

CDE chairman and former People's Action Party Member of Parliament, Yeo Guat Kwang said the centre was happy to note that MOM had regarded its calls. He noted that the starting salaries of maids have increased from an average of $300 in 2012 to about $550 in 2016.

MOM collects a monthly sum of $265 FDW levy or a concession sum of $60 from the employer.

However, prominent social worker and civil activist Jolovan Wham commented on the changes on his Facebook, that the increment is still not fair to the FDWs.

Mr Wham wrote that in comparison, workers covered under the Work injury Compensation Act (WICA) can get a maximum of $262,000 for their work accidents. He said, “...Those covered also get more benefits, such as medical leave wages, physiotherapy, and even traditional Chinese medicinal treatments!”

Under the MOM's Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA), employers are to purchase a minimum sum of insurance for their foreign workers to cover for death and permanent disability.

Mr Wham pointed that domestic workers are excluded from this. “They should demand no less than equality. If other workers eat bread, they should not be contented with a handful of crumbs thrown at them,” he wrote.