Bula vinaka and good afternoon to you all.
We are here today to give just compensation to people who have suffered serious injury on the job—and to the grieving families of people who have lost their lives while performing their duties.
It is a sad fact that people sometimes suffer injury or death while working. Sometimes it is because their jobs carry known risks, but other times through freak accidents, or someone’s negligence, or by contracting a disease, or due to natural disasters. Whatever the reason, it is the hallmark of modern, civilized societies to provide compensation to the injured to compensate them for physical injuries that prevent them from working as they once did. We also must care for the families of people who are killed on the job and who no longer can count on the family breadwinner. Since January 2019 Fiji provides the families of those injured or killed in accidents with compensation through our Accident Compensation Commission Fiji –– adding yet another layer of security for those suffering tragic circumstances.
The payments have increased over time, and today, the compensation for deaths arising from employment-related accidents is $75,000.
My Government has modernised compensation for employment accidents by replacing the Workmen’s Compensation Act with the Accident Compensation Act 2017 to better serve workers and their dependents. The “no fault” workers compensation scheme is more victim friendly, allowing for compensation cases to be decided quickly and without prolonged investigations. What is important is that a person was injured or killed on the job, and some compensation must be paid. There is no longer a need to get involved in expensive and lengthy legal battles –– a burden grieving families should never bear.
We are also committed to making sure that our compensation is given fairly according to reasonable and rational standards. So the Ministry has engaged the services of an Australian occupational medicine consultant to train more than 200 medical assessors. These assessors have the training and experience to assess each person’s case to determine their degree of permanent disability or to provide medical opinions on the degree to which an individual’s death was caused by conditions at work or related to work.
We want to be sure that people suffering the same injuries are compensated in the same way. We can’t have a situation in which compensation is seen as arbitrary or inconsistent. And that requires us to establish standards and to engage in rigorous training. Today, only those doctors who have undergone the Impairment Assessment Training are allowed to conduct final medical assessments.
Over the last five years, my Government has paid out approximately $8.75 million as compensation to the workers and dependents of government workers.
For this financial year, Government has allocated $1.2 million for compensation payments to injured workers and dependents of deceased workers whose deaths are directly related to their employment.
Out of that $1.2 million, we will pay $494,000 to settle 24 cases—17 injuries and 7 deaths. Today we honor the first group of recipients. Under the Accident Compensation scheme, compensation is more inclusive, extending to all victims of employment accidents, not only government workers. Over the past 12 months, ACCF has paid $1.7 million in compensation to workers from across different sectors.
I would like to say something to the people gathered here today to receive these checks: I know that no amount of money can truly compensate you for the suffering you endured, for the loss of a loved one. Or for the disability you will now carry for the rest of your life. For this, you have my deepest personal sympathy.
But it is my hope that these payments will help you as you go forward and build new lives, and that the funds will help sustain you and allow you to live with dignity and hope. We have no guarantees in this life. You know all too well that our prospects for the future can change in the blink of an eye. You know that any one of us may have to rethink completely what our lives will look like—suddenly and without warning. But strong people endure and carry on. And people are made stronger if their fellow citizens—and the government that expresses the will of the people—take their hand and help them in their hour of need.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Health and Safety at Work legislation promotes the notion that “those that create the risks at the workplace have the primary responsibility to resolve them.” Let me say that it is the job of everyone to create a safe workplace. The employers have the greater responsibility, but the workers must do their part—by working safely, by not cutting corners, and by speaking up whenever there are unsafe conditions. I hope that I will not have to give out any more compensation checks because we have no one to compensate. That would be a year without injury or death on the job. It may seem impossible, but it is what we must strive for.
Vinaka vakalevu, and you all have my best wishes.