The Season Of Promises

Since a politician never believes what he says, he is surprised when others believe him”
Charles de Gaulle Newsweek 1 October 1962

This column was not written on 1 April 2009. It is a true account of a historic event. In the spirit of the month of April I will have little to say and leave that to the politicians. At the moment most of us are trying just to keep up with the promises being made by all the candidates. So out of respect let us rather revisit the promises made at the historic event that took place on 21 April 1941. Yes you are correct indeed, it happened almost precisely 68 years ago.
The event that I have in mind was the “Second reading: Workmen’s Compensation Bill” on that specific day in 1941. Why label it as a historic event? After all, Parliaments have through the years read and passed thousands of Bills. A member taking part in the debate on that day will supply you with the answer as he describes the Bill as one that
”….introduces a complete new principle into our legislation, namely, nationalisation..”1. This Bill created a State Insurance Fund. The sentiment was that the private insurance companies had failed in their duties in terms of the 1934 Act under which they had provided workers’ compensation insurance. But let me rather allow the Minister of Labour to tell you more about the situation. This is from his introduction to the debate that was to follow:
“The reproach has been made with regard to me that I intended to have a State fund whatever happened – whether the insurance companies came to heel or not, whether they made any other arrangements or not between themselves and the employers…….so that had they produced the same sort of benefits ….obtained in this Bill I would still have plumped for a State Insurance Fund. Now that is perfectly true. I accept the reproach at once and shall tell the House why. All over the world there has been built up a consciousness that the State has a duty towards it citizens. The question of workmen’s compensation has become, as is it becoming in this country, a question largely of social justice…..and I believe that you cannot begin to consider it as a matter of social justice unless the State itself is controlling it. It means monopolising the whole question. I want to deal with it not merely from the question of preventing, healing and caring for broken bodies – not merely on the question of the tears and the misery of widows and orphans. It sounds melodramatic but it is nevertheless true. That has been the position in the last four years in this country, a position which I hope this House will help me to put a short and sharp period to.”2

I had tears in my eyes when reading this commitment to care for the “broken bodies” of the workers. The honourable Minister went even further:
“We propose to do everything we possibly can to make it possible for the citizen who is injured to have his pension or his lump sum as the case may be, and find some other avenue of employment by training him in some other direction and we will see to its accomplishment as a result of that training. For the first time workmen’s compensation legislation envisages an interest in the person not the cold ledger record of injury and payment”3

For the record, the “other side of the House” supported the Bill. The main reason why I let the gentlemen speak for themselves is that I am wary that any summary I might make of their exact and eloquent words can possibly be viewed as subjectivity on my part. Although the 1941 Act has been repealed and replaced by the 1993 COID Act, the same basic legal philosophy is still entrenched in the latter Act. I will not in the space of one page nor, for that matter, even in 20 pages, endeavour to analyse the outcome of all the promises made since 1941 and subsequent continuation of the sentiments in connection with the present Act. I leave it to you the reader to judge whether the intended social justice for the injured has indeed come to fruition. Even more important than the water under the bridge situation, judge the present situation by using a few benchmarks to determine whether the care for the broken bodies, the retraining for alternative employment, etc, has indeed occurred. Criteria such as the following might assist you to pass an opinion:

  • Are the medical accounts for the injured being paid promptly to ensure continuity in the treatment? Are the service providers keen to co-operate to heal the injured or are some of them reluctant to touch an IOD case?
  • Does the injured employee regularly receive his TTD payments in cases where the employer no longer remunerates the employee during the time he or she is incapacitated? If not how can he or she expect to survive especially under the present difficult circumstances?
  • Does the permanently injured employee receive the Permanent Disability benefits soon after the condition has stabilised?

Answers to the above questions and the gathering of opinions from the administrators of workers’ compensation for employers will undoubtedly give you an idea of the status quo. Then go back and read the ideals of State Insurance for workers’ compensation.
I rest my case and will say no more. Happy voting and remember what the promises were that you have voted for.

1 Hansard 21 April 1941 on page 6790
2 ditto page 6781 to 6782
3 ditto page 6789

Till next time.