Employers Dodge Health Payments

Many workers in private sector lack medical and social security cover.

Employers Dodge Health Payments

Many workers in private sector lack medical and social security cover.

Tuesday, 25 August, 2009
Nemer al-Moufarej, 32, badly injured his leg in an accident at the plastics factory in the industrial city of Hassia, near Homs, where he works but his problems were just beginning.

Moufarej found himself forced to pay for medical treatment because he was not registered in any social security programme and had no medical insurance.

“I cannot complain to the authorities because then I will be fired,” Moufarej said.

He asked his boss to help and finally was able to persuade him to cover part of the cost of treatment.

Moufarej is one of a large number of Syrian employees in the private sector who have no social security. Many find themselves in a vulnerable situation when they face a health problem and have no medical coverage, experts say.

The new annual report of the General Social Security Organisation, GSSO, released in July, showed that half of Syria’s six million workers were not registered for social security.

The GSSO is a government body set up in 1959 that offers health care and pensions and covers work accidents.

Suleiman al-Naimi, the head of the monitoring bureau at the GSSO in Homs, said that the organisation was unable to force employers in the private sector to provide medical coverage for their workers.

“Even when we send a team to control companies, unregistered employees hide out of fear of their bosses,” he said.

He added, however, that when uncovered employees do complain, the organisation provided social security cover at its own expense.

Naimi said the government was trying to find solutions to the problem. It was drafting a new labour law that would make it compulsory for employers to sign an official labour contract with employees and provide them with a medical insurance plan.

He said that the new legislation would also make it more difficult for employers to dismiss their employees.

Although current Syrian labour laws oblige companies to register all employees in the social security programme and pay 17 per cent of a worker’s salary to the GSSO, the majority of employers do not officially list all their employees.

And even when workers have access to the social security system, their cover is based on only a small percentage of their real salaries, the GSSO report said.

Some employers complain that paying for social security constitutes a heavy financial burden on top of the taxes they have to pay.

Labibi Ikhwan, who owns several factories in Hassia, complained about the high fees he has to pay to the GSSO and admitted that he concealed the real salaries of his employees from the authorities.

“They have to lower the fees if they don’t want employers to run away from paying them,” he said.

Although most private sector employees are not registered for social security, they are still able to benefit from free health services in state-run hospitals and dispensaries.

But some medical expenses like medicines are not provided free of charge for uncovered citizens.

In contrast to the situation of private sector employees, the vast majority of civil servants were registered for social security, said Lina Raslan, the director of health and life insurance at the Syrian Insurance Company, a public entity that provides insurance plans.

Yasser Salama, a 40 year-old employee at the public construction company in Homs, said that he was recently operated on free at the company’s hospital and all the costs of his treatment were paid for.

“The health services provided by the state so far are good,” he said.

Some ministries, however, like the education ministry, do not offer free medical insurance to their employees, Raslan said.

In addition, after retirement, public servants lose access to free medical insurance.

According to the GSSO’s Naimi, the new law is expected to ensure that all public servants receive social security cover even after retiring.

Abdo al-Zoabe, 65, a retired employee of the Syrian national railways, had to borrow money for an operation on his prostate at a private hospital.

Zoabe said that the state stopped paying for his medical bills after his retirement.

“Health insurance is the state’s responsibility. It should not only provide it to employees but to all citizens,” he said.
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