Making Insurance Pay: JWB and ILO Helping to Overcome Barriers to Insurance Claims for Workers Returning Home

November 26, 2018

Workers’ insurance receives very little attention in our sector. In fact, documented workers enjoy coverage across their home and host countries. While benefits vary, injury coverage is usually standard, and can provide a quick and efficient way for a worker to obtain needed medical and compensation coverage without resorting to legal claims.

Unfortunately, compensation remains inaccessible for many, especially after returning home.

Indonesian workers employed in Malaysia are an excellent example. All employment agencies in Indonesia are required to provide insurance for the over 700,000 documented workers heading to their neighbor up north. At the same time, employers in Malaysia must take out employer’s insurance, providing an additional layer of coverage for the worker.

Sadly, many workers do not know that they have any coverage at all. Most do not receive information about these insurance schemes, nor do they learn how to claim payouts while abroad. Making matters worse, employers do not always inform workers about coverage in Malaysia, nor submit claims when an injury occurs during work.

Injured workers thus often go home with little to no chance of obtaining compensation. Unaware of Malaysian coverage, many struggle to navigate the recently changed Indonesian insurance scheme, with bureaucratic red tape that leaves many frustrated and without options.

FROM CONCEPT TO CLAIMS: GATHERING EXPERTS TO MAKE COMPENSATION A REALITY

Seeing an excellent opportunity to apply our cross-border expertise to a new area of need, Justice Without Borders (JWB) partnered with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to identify and launch test claims for Indonesian workers returning from Malaysia. The first step: gathering 30 Indonesian community-based paralegals and Malaysian caseworkers in a Kuala Lumpur workshop to exchange information on their respective insurance systems and to plan first steps in launching test claims across borders.

The Justice Without Borders team presenting on common insurance cases and the steps needed to make a claim.

Like our work in civil litigation, most of the experts in the room had never met their counterparts from abroad in person. Each country group knew their own insurance systems, but had little sense of what was possible abroad, and how to go about making those claims. As the teams huddled together to discuss their cases, it became clear that meeting in person to establish a working relationship was just as important as learning about each other’s work.

Mr. Soma of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress walks participants through the Malaysian insurance claim process, including negotiations with employers.

The next step was assembling the pieces that comprise the insurance process. Malaysian experts from law firms, the Malaysian Trades Union Congress, and local organisations discussed differences between what domestic workers, plantation workers, and those in other sectors enjoyed, while counterparts in Indonesia walked the room through the ongoing transition between Indonesia’s previous worker insurance system, and the new, stripped down national health care system.

As always, evidence developed into a key concern. With many workers returning home bereft of documentation, participants quickly turned to strategising from where and how to obtain official documents that their respective insurance systems require.

Thankfully, government representatives also were present to share how their department could help with some documents. For example, an Indonesia Embassy official spoke about consular affairs support for insurance claims. Notably, the new Indonesian insurance system often requires documentation from Indonesian embassies abroad, making coordination with such embassies critical for successful claims.

TESTING THE WATERS: PARTICIPANTS MOVE TO LAUNCH CROSS-BORDER CLAIMS FOR WORKERS

Late in the second day, participants huddled in groups to consult on actual cases their organisations might take forward. Malaysian participants excitedly discussed how to take several cases forward with their Indonesian counterparts, as the Malaysian insurance system seemed to offer the best immediate opportunities to try cross-border claims. By the end of the event, these participants and JWB had identified next steps to collecting evidence and filing actual claims.

Following the event, JWB began working with these and other participants to turn these cases into real test claims. With additional mentoring support from JWB, participating organisations will launch test claims aimed at making access to insurance coverage abroad an ordinary practice, open to all who are covered. JWB will be documenting the course of these cases, with an eye towards sharing good practices with other organisations who could not attend the event.

This project is part of JWB’s long-term mission to expand access to compensation for migrant workers who have returned home. JWB warmly thanks the International Labour Organization and our partners and speakers from Indonesia and Malaysia for their support and participation, and looks forward to collaborating regionally with stakeholders on insurance cases going forward.