Hesperian Health Guides

Workers’ compensation and social services

Too often, companies do not want to take responsibility for the injuries they cause, and refuse to support disabled workers. While many countries have workers’ compensation, rehabilitation, and disability benefit programs to support workers who have been injured at work, the forms and processes for filing a claim can be difficult to complete. Many worker organizations offer support for workers filing their claims. People working in the claims office can be very helpful too.

a woman behind a counter labeled "COMPENSATION CLAIMS" pointing to a list of questions on the wall.

~ What happened?

~ When did it happen?

~ Do you have names of any witnesses?

~ Did you receive treatment? Where and from whom?
If this is an injury or health problem that has become worse over several years, such as asthma, they might ask: When did you first realize it was a problem? What things made it worse? Have you had any treatment?
When you file a claim for compensation, you will need to provide a lot of information about what happened.

Besides keeping your own information, it is helpful to keep records of injuries, illnesses, and compensation paid to other workers, especially if more than one person was affected. Make this information known to your union, the health and safety committee, the boss, and interested community organizations. Being able to show that work dangers were so serious that they resulted in compensation being paid to workers can help you motivate people to get involved and take action to improve conditions.

The factory might be unwilling to recognize that harm was committed and refuse to pay compensation. You may need to involve lawyers, government officials, environmental, worker, and women’s organizations, reporters, and even the large companies whose products are being made in your factory.

Support groups for injured workers

Injured workers benefit from meeting and sharing their experiences about health care providers, treatments, recovery, social services, and returning to work. Workers with experience can help newly injured workers apply for benefits and give emotional support to workers with a difficult recovery or a permanent injury. When employers and co-workers only see the injury but not the person with it, a support group can help you recover your sense of self-worth and belief in your own abilities.

Social insurance and services for injured workers

Ill or injured workers recover more quickly and completely when the health system trains doctors to listen to workers and to identify work-related injuries. Services should include physical and occupational rehabilitation and back-to-work programs if the job no longer poses a danger to the worker. For a worker who can no longer do his job, programs should give job training appropriate to the worker’s disability. The employers and government should also provide a social insurance program for permanently disabled workers, including compensation and accommodation at work and in the community.

Each country has different laws regarding health care, from universal health care to private hospitals. Learn what the health care laws are in your country, then help workers decide which issues are most important to them, such as the cost of health insurance, time off to see a health worker, the cost of medicines, or specific health coverage for work-related health problems.

Health care is a union priority

The SITRACOR garment workers’ union in Honduras started a campaign for better access to health. They fought for workers’ right to time off for medical appointments, and to make sure that every worker was registered in the national health insurance system. They got a lot of support from the government and NGOs when one worker had a miscarriage on the job after she was denied permission to go to her pre-natal appointments.

SITRACOR has also worked on expanding other medical benefits for workers. For example, they found that many garment factory workers needed eye care for irritation, injuries, and eye strain, but the full cost of eye exams and glasses was not covered by the national health insurance. SITRACOR campaigned to get the factory owner to pay for workers’ eye care. They also won similar battles to make sure the factory pays for tests for lung problems, HIV, and cancer.