New insurance law ignores site workers

Building workers injured in on-site accidents will not be covered by Abu Dhabi's new mandatory health insurance scheme

Abu Dhabi’s new health insurance law will not cover on-site injuries for construction workers.
The law – which could be replicated in Dubai – is a government-backed initiative to ensure that low-paid workers and their families do not have to foot the bill for their own medical treatment.

But this is restricted only to treatment in the event of illness as opposed to injuries caused on site.

From 1 January 2007, all companies and sponsors will be obliged to take out health insurance for their workers, either through national insurance firm Daman, which will provide cover subsidised by the government, or from one of the 14 authorised private insurance companies.
“By January, everyone residing or working in Abu Dhabi must have health insurance,” said Marwan Nabloufi, auditor, General Authority for Health Services, Abu Dhabi.

“The government is paying part of this only to help the labourer who cannot afford it and the construction companies. If you’re ill, it will cover you, but it does not cover workplace injuries. There is a special insurance available for work site injuries, but this is not part of the health insurance scheme.”

The minimum premium that companies will have to pay for each worker a year has been set at US $163 (AED600), if it is done through the government-backed Daman, otherwise premiums with the approved private firms could escalate to $816 if full cover is taken out.

Nabloufi added a complaints system will be in place for workers who are forced to pay for cover with their own salaries, and their companies will be heavily penalised.

Once the system gets underway in Abu Dhabi, it could eventually be used as a template for mandatory health insurance cover in Dubai and the rest of the UAE.

“Although there’s been no official announcement, I think the idea is that the rest of the UAE will follow the Abu Dhabi model. There is a need for it because it’s mostly construction workers who can’t afford the basic care package,” said Fiona Nichols, partner, assurance and business advisory services, PriceWaterhouse Coopers.

“Obviously it’s going to be a big cost for contractors because it’s not something they were paying before, especially if it’s mandated as it is in Abu Dhabi.

“But it is all in the interest of protecting their workers’ rights more than anything else, so at the end of the day it’s something they’re going to have to live with.”

Last week, in a separate announcement, the Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum ordered the Minister of Labour, Ali Bin Abdullah Al Ka’abi, to introduce mandatory health insurance for all site workers.

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