Q: How big is the problem of work-related accidents in Japan?
A: Pretty big: foreign workers in Japan probably suffer several thousand work-related accidents every year. According to the Japan Civil Liberties Union, most of these are not reported, and the workers involved receive little or no compensation.
Q: What is Workers' Accident Compensation (WAC)?
A: A government scheme which grants insurance benefits and compensation to workers or the families of workers who have suffered a work-related accident or illness. It is administered by Labour Standards Offices (LSO). Companies have to register for this scheme and pay WAC insurance premiums for their workers.
Q: What is a work-related accident or illness?
Any accident occurring in the course of work or any illness (including mental illness) resulting from work duties. An accident or illness caused by a worker's negligence or deliberate act is not considered work-related.
Q: What if I have an accident while commuting?
A: WAC also covers injury or disability due to an accident which happens while you are going from home to work by a reasonable route and method.
Q: Does WAC apply to foreigners? Even undocumented workers?
A: Yes. WAC is administered according to the Workers' Accident Compensation Insurance Law (or in some cases the Labour Standards Law), and the guideline of the Japanese Health, Labour and Welfare (HLW) Ministry is "Japanese Labour Laws protect all people working in Japan, regardless of their nationality or visa status." In 1997, the Tokyo Supreme Court ruled that a foreigner permanently disabled after a work accident was entitled to the same compensation as a Japanese person, even though he had been working here without a proper visa.
Q: I'm an English teacher, not a building worker. Why do I need to know about WAC?
An accident can happen anywhere! An English teacher at NOVA came to the General Union after falling and breaking her arm at the school where she worked. We helped her to claim WAC benefits. Some English-teaching jobs require applicants to have a driver's licence, so there is the possibility of a road accident while a teacher is driving for the purposes of work. And anybody can have an accident while commuting to work.
Q: What benefits can my family and I get?
Medical Compensation Benefit
Pays for any medical treatment you need for a work-related accident or illness.
Sickness Absence Benefit
If you need time off work because of a work-related accident or illness, the employer must pay 60% of your daily salary for the first three days off. The government pays another 20% through the WAC scheme. From the fourth day onwards, the government pays the whole 80%.
A pension or lump sum you receive if you are still disabled after treatment for a work-related accident or illness has been completed. The amount depends how serious the handicap is.
Injury and Disease Compensation
A pension you receive if, eighteen months after a work-related injury or the start of a work-related illness, you have not recovered or are still disabled.
Compensation paid to the relatives of a person who dies from a work-related injury or illness.
Nursing Care Benefit
Pays for nursing care if you need it after a work-related accident or illness.
Q: What do I need to do if I'm injured at work?
A: If possible, you should go to a hospital designated by the HLW Ministry to provide treatment under the WAC scheme. Contact a foreign residents' advice centre to find out the location of the nearest designated hospital. Because they can bill the Labour Standards Office (LSO), these hospitals will normally treat you free of charge for a work-related accident or illness. If you can't speak Japanese, try to have a Japanese speaker accompany you. Get the doctor who treats you to make a full report. Make sure your name (the one on your passport, not any other name) and date of birth are recorded accurately on the report. You have to submit this report to the LSO when you apply for Workers' Accident Compensation. Your employer should also submit a report of your accident to the LSO. After receiving an application for WAC, the LSO will take 1 to 3 months to investigate the claim, and then pay compensation or benefits into your bank account. If you suffer a permanent disability, you will have to obtain a medical report and then attend an interview (in Japanese) at the LSO in order to apply for Disability Compensation. If, in an emergency, you have to go a non-designated hospital, then you will have to pay the treatment fee, but you can later apply to the LSO for reimbursement and compensation. You will need to submit a doctor's report, a report about the accident from your employer, and the receipts for payments to the hospital.
Q: Why don't some employers tell their foreign workers about this insurance?
A: Because they don't want to pay the insurance premiums; or they don't know the law; or they are employing undocumented workers; or (in the case of subcontractor companies and "brokers") they fear that investigations into work accidents could damage their relationships with client companies.
Q: Will undocumented workers be reported to Immigration if they try to claim WAC?
A: No. The HLW Ministry's policy is that the LSO shall not report undocumented workers to the immigration authorities.
Q: My company hasn't paid any insurance premiums for me. I've had an accident at work, and the boss won't report it to the Labour Standards Office. What shall I do?
A: You can apply for WAC by yourself. Go to the LSO responsible for the area where your workplace is. If you can prove that the accident happened at work, then you will be eligible for compensation and benefits even if you weren't insured. The employer will have to back-pay for your insurance.
Q: If I work for a subcontractor, who should apply for WAC, the subcontractor or the contractor company? What if I work for a "broker"?
A: The contractor company, if you work for a subcontractor. If you work for a broker, the broker should apply.
Q: Can my company fire me if I need time off after a work injury?
A: No. The Labour Standards Law says "An employer shall not dismiss a worker during a period of rest for medical treatment [for] injuries or illnesses suffered in the course of employment".
Q: I quit my job immediately after I had an accident at my workplace. Does WAC Insurance still cover me?
A: Yes. Your employer should provide a report of the accident for the LSO. If he/she doesn't cooperate, you should apply for WAC compensation and benefits by yourself to the LSO.
Q: Is there a time limit on claims?
A: Under the WAC Insurance Law, you have five years to claim Disability Compensation Benefit and Survivor Compensation Benefit; two years to claim the other kinds of benefit.
Q: I had to go to hospital for treatment for a stomach problem (not work-related). I lost wages while I was off work. Can I get benefits or compensation through WAC?
A: Because the illness was not work-related, you are not eligible for WAC. However, if you work 30 hours a week or more, then by law your employer must enrol you on the Company Employee Health Insurance. This insurance will compensate you if you are off work because of an illness which is not work-related.
Q: Can I get compensation for distress caused by the way my boss treats me?
A: No, because this does not count as an injury or illness.
Q: Where can I get more detailed information about WAC and labour laws?