Insecure social security system

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Unless social security issues are addressed at the structural level, all the talk about social security coverage will not result in adequate protection, says Ronald Benjamin.

The Association for Community and Dialogue welcomes the announcement by Human Resources Minister M Kula Segaran that all 100,000 taxi drivers and e-hailing services will be covered under Socso (Social Security Organisation) in 2019.

Enhancing social security in the country is vital, especially for the bottom 40% of the community who are vulnerable to emergencies, as most of them are not insured.

While we applaud the ministry’s move, there are missing links in our social security system that go unnoticed or are deliberately ignored, which have significant implications for the wellbeing of Malaysian and foreign workers.

I would like to highlight three real cases that reflect the inadequacy of our social security system.

When I was in the manufacturing sector, I witnessed a situation in which a worker met with a serious accident and was rushed to the Ipoh General Hospital. After a delay in attending to the victim, the victim’s wife and parents decided to take their son to a private hospital.

At the private hospital, the authorities wanted a guarantee letter from the victim’s place of work before they would perform any surgery. Since the patient was a machine operator, he was insured for only RM20,000 by the company. The cost of his operation came up to RM50,000; so his family had to borrow money from friends and relatives to pay the bill (and they are still paying off the debt).

At this company, executives were insured for RM30,000 while managers and above had a coverage of RM50,000. The irony is that the poor who are most vulnerable are insured for a lower sum while managers and directors who earn more and can afford to pay high private insurance premiums are well covered.

In the second case, a lower-income employee, who was not insured by his company, lost part of a finger at work at midnight; he was rushed to the general hospital. It took three hours for the hospital staff to attend to this patient. He had to suffer agony because he didn’t have the financial means to go to a private hospital and get immediate attention.

What is social security in this context when Socso and EPF (Employees Provident Fund) are of no use to these workers in emergency situations?

In the third case, a relative of mine had chest pains once and went to the general hospital. The doctor said he had had a minor heart attack. As cardiologists were not available at the time, my relative was advised to seek treatment at a private hospital. The test to ascertain whether there was a block in his heart vessels came up to RM24,000.

While my relative had the luxury of help, I wonder what would have happened to a low-income patient in a similar situation who might not have private insurance or could not afford private treatment. Even if the patient had EPF savings, a situation like this would wipe out part of his savings for old age.

How does social security work in this context? Does a worker need to work extremely hard to cover his life-long debts with interest payments instead of focusing on his or her development? How does this affect his or her psychological health?

Based on these three cases I, as a human resources practitioner, witnessed, it is obvious that social security is not merely about the inadequacy of EPF and Socso in emergency situations. It also reveals a deep-seated structural injustice: government hospital are not able to immediately deal with emergency cases unlike private hospitals that work within a framework of ‘the more money you have, the better your chances of survival’.

Obviously, social security in our country is not relevant when it comes to covering holistic aspects of human life, survival and security, especially for the most vulnerable.

Therefore it is vital that the Pakatan Harapan government tackles social security in a progressive, comprehensive and holistic manner so that the lives and wellbeing of human beings take precedence over money.

Preventive measures are needed to ensure that low-income Malaysians are adequately protected in case of an emergency. Allocations should be made for emergency funds and guarantees during emergencies.

Greater investment in public hospitals is needed so they can become a place of rest, care and assurance for patients who are seriously injured, without them having to worry about the financial implications.

To prevent accidents, the government should also encourage the private sector and workers to use technology such as sensors to track and detect abnormal stress levels.

Unless social security issues are addressed at the structural level of what constitutes authentic social security and the importance of taking preventive measures, all the talk about social security coverage, whether it is for Malaysians or foreign workers, will not result in adequate protection.

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