Every employee in South Africa is entitled to fair treatment and is entitled to all the rights as outlined by our various pieces of labour legislation. Every employee must have a letter of appointment and every employee must be registered for the Unemployment Insurance Fund, Workmen’s Compensation and PAYE. Employees have money deducted from their weekly or monthly wages and salaries and the employees are entitled to the benefits reaped from these deductions. If the employer deducts and does not pay over the correct deductions and contributions to the authorities then the employer is behaving fraudulently and can be prosecuted for same.

The reality is that in many cases employees do not receive the benefits of the insurance that they have contributed to for many years. The Workmen’s Compensation Fund which is a part of the Department of Labour, has failed the South African workforce and certainly has created havoc in the lives of many injured employees. Any employee who is injured whilst on duty (which includes going to and from work) that employee should be entitled to rely on the compensation fund. The employer has to pay the first three months’ salary and likewise can claim this money back from the compensation fund. Horror stories are abound. Once the employer completes the claim forms to the compensation fund the nightmare begins, the fund normally loses the documentation, does not register the claim and almost certainly never pays out. Examples of employees having being injured ten years ago and never receiving any compensation are many. Invariably the office of the compensation commissioner does not respond and does not acknowledge any correspondence. The auditor general has failed the compensation fund for at least the last three years and it has been acknowledged by the Department that the computer systems bought for many, many millions of rands have been hopeless. Despite court applications and negative judgments against the fund, the compensation fund commissioner has done nothing.

Last month the Department of Labour announced a major shake-up in the management structures of the compensation fund. The Department has confirmed that the fund has been in disarray for several years. An employee shake up is not going to help very much. For years, employees have been moved and new incompetent staff have replaced them. The fund is sitting on billions of rands which they are unable to disburse. Again, a new computer system has been purchased for enormous money and it appears again that no one is able to work it. The Minister has moved the funds commissioner to another department despite the fact that the commissioner hopelessly failed South Africa. Others have been suspended on full pay and probably will continue receiving their salary whilst they await for many months for a possible disciplinary enquiry. Again and again the Department of Labour has failed us and the Minister of Labour continues to reward the failure.

The only answer would be for the funds and the system to be placed with a competent independent private company who can ensure that the injury claims are properly assessed, recorded and finally paid out. The backlog could probably be sorted out within months if one of the independent insurance companies tackled the problem. Once this happens injured employees will once again be able to see private doctors and go to private hospitals without putting enormous pressure on the public health system.

A society is judged by the way it treats its weakest members and unfortunately, our government has failed the injured employees.