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Key note address by the Honourable Mildred Oliphant: Minister of Labour

20 April 2016

DRAFT SPEAKING NOTES FOR THE MINISTER OF LABOUR ON THE OCCASION OF THE OFFICIAL OPENING OF THE RMA CARE FACILITY HELD ON 18 APRIL 2016 IN WELKOM

Programme Director

Deputy Minister Hon Godfrey Oliphant

Chairperson of the RMA Board, Professor Maphai

RMA, Board Members

Chief Executive Officer – Mr Jay Singh

Commissioner of the Compensation Fund, Mr Vuyo Mafata

Our Social Partners, Labour, Business and Community

Patients and Staff of the RMA Care Facility

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

 

It is indeed a privilege to be here today to witness the official opening of what can be described as a ground breaking achievement in the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and diseases word of work.  This kind of work finds expression in the Freedom Charter, our constitution and the 2014 Election manifesto of the ruling party.

Today is yet another testimony that our Compensation of occupational injuries and diseases practices rank among the best in the world.  A facility of this nature ticks all the right boxes and most importantly, it strikes all the international best practice notes.

COIDA, as it is often called in South Africa, mirrors all the elements of what a comprehensive social security safety net should look like in the workplace from an occupational injuries and diseases perspective.

It provides among other things medical care, pensions, short term insurance benefits such as funeral cover, vocational, medical and social rehabilitation as benefits to workers who are injured on the job or who develop occupational diseases, as well as survivors’ benefits for families of victims of occupational fatalities.

The interplay between COIDA and Occupational Health and safety policy framework, whilst not unique to South Africa, is also very profound internationally. This interplay seeks to incorporate the notion of prevention by encouraging workplace improvements in occupational health and safety or by actively supporting and promoting awareness-raising and prevention activities.  The recent accord between stakeholders and the Department of Labour is a classical case in point.

Ladies ad Gentlemen; The philosophy of our Occupational Health and Safety Inspection seeks to inculcate a culture of zero workplace injuries and diseases. Therefore employers should have “zero” as their targets for workplace injuries and diseases as anything more will be morally and ethically unacceptable.  The other reality with occupational diseases is the length of time which may elapse before the medical condition occurs. This has been the case most notably with asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, which may take thirty to fifty years to develop after the workers were exposed to asbestos fibres.

For example the asbestos related diseases in Germany take about 38 years before it shows up on the worker.

The other challenge is that in some countries, workers are paid in lump sums as compensation and this often results in workers exhausting these monies far too quickly and the worker and/or family often return to Government to seek additional assistance.  On the other hand, there can also be problems where compensation is paid out in stages, if that compensation is not inflation-linked. The effect is that the living standard of the individual worker affected gradually declines and an accident or illness has left them unable to return to work.

While social insurance largely avoids this problem by providing periodic payments, many of these schemes experience the erosion of the purchasing power of pensions by inflation.  According to the recent ILO Study, only Mauritius provides automatic annual indexing of pensions for inflation and South Africa has consistently granted increases which are in line with the consumer price index over the last decade.

It is therefore important Programme Director; that a multifaceted and a holistic approach to compensation of occupational injuries and diseases legal framework is pursued. “Prevention before rehabilitation, and rehabilitation before compensation” should be the logical sequence of interventions in the normal scheme of things, but we know though that in real life, mistakes, accidents, oversights, injuries can happen and workers do become ill even in the safest workplaces. Ironically these things usually occur when least expected and inadvertently cause harm to workers.

According to ILO estimates, two million men and women die from work-related diseases and accidents each year – a death toll averaging some 5,000 workers a day.

It is for these reasons that we need to keep fine-tuning the law so that it is always equal to the challenges that workers face on a daily basis. To this end we have commenced a process to amend the Compensation of Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act in order to bring it in line with the current case law and some elements of international best practice. The new amendments seek to broaden the scope of coverage to include domestic workers; introduce a patient-centred approach in the delivery of health services by aggressively reducing the time patients have to wait to receive services and medication.

Programme Director; Let me congratulate RMA for their vision and making what many may have thought was an impossible task, a reality. This facility is an important step and a new paradigm in our quest to provide quality service to our workers. Of course this facility takes our vision a step further by ensuring that care-givers, who are often family members, are an integral part of this initiative. It can be said without fear of contradiction, that this facility is unique and it equally fits the pay-off line “A home away from Home”.  It is not often that you find a care facility that makes provisions for family members’ to be part of their family member who is undergoing treatment. I dare say.

Another unique feature of this facility is that it caters for all workers who are recuperating or undergoing treatment away from a conventional health care institution, including workers from our neighbouring states that may have got injured or contracted diseases whilst working in South Africa.

This facility Ladies and Gentlemen, is an expression of our desire to provide accessible top of the range quality care to workers who incurred injuries and contracted diseases whilst in the line of duty.  It is a living example of what is possible if we work together as social partners. RMA, as a licensee of the Labour Ministry to provide Compensation Fund services to workers in the mining and metal and engineering sectors, is on all accounts walking the talk. It is also proof that the licensee understands our vision and mission as this government. This facility is indeed a beacon of hope and it resonates perfectly with the broad principles guiding the government’s vision on the National Health Insurance policy construct.

I am particularly pleased by the fact that this facility will also provide Care-givers with skills on how to provide top-notch home-care to their family members. This will prevent things like bed-sores and other preventable conditions. I am also happy that this facility will provide workers with new skills in line with the habilitation and rehabilitation philosophy of the Department. This will enhance the principle of the return to work objective, be it the same job the worker did before injury, or a new and meaningful employment opportunity else-where in the labour market.

Congratulations to the Leadership and stuff of RMA, you have indeed raised the bar in the provision of care for workers. It will be great to see more of these initiatives in other provinces. Just to let you know that the Supported Employment Enterprises, previously known as Sheltered Employment Factories, will soon be moving into the manufacturing of assistive devices, and I have no doubt that this facility will become one of its customers.

I THANK YOU.

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