17 January 2021, Sunday | 10:58pm

'Make firms pay for screening of illegal foreign workers'


KUALA LUMPUR: Though some 1.7 million foreign workers will undergo a mandatory Covid-19 screening programme starting today, trade unions and employers have raised concerns about undocumented migrant workers.

Malaysian Trades Union Congress president Datuk Abdul Halim Mansor said undocumented foreign workers were "the real ticking time bomb" in Malaysia's efforts to rein in the pandemic.

"By some estimates, our country has about three million undocumented foreign workers, in addition to some two million documented foreign workers.

"The government must trace employers who hire illegal migrant workers and make them bear the cost of their screening.

"If they fail to do so, they must be given a heavy penalty.

"This is because employing illegal entrants is against the Employment Act 1955 and Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007.

"Why should our healthcare system and taxpayers pay for their actions?"

Halim urged the government to deport undocumented migrant workers after they cleared their Covid-19 test.

"At present, we do not need them since we have one million locals who can contribute to the workforce."

He urged the government to ensure that all companies report their operation plans, as well as provide a breakdown of their foreign workers.

"The companies should submit these details to a police station so that the police and the district Health Department can make arrangements to screen them.

"Employers should provide comfortable housing for their employees, as stipulated in the Employment Act 1955, Employees' Social Security Act 1969 and Workers' Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990."

Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan voiced similar concerns about undocumented migrant workers.

"The Social Security Organisation (Socso) coverage is limited to documented foreign workers, leaving out the larger portion of illegal foreign workers who have never been covered by social insurance.

"Still, the RM60 subsidy for legal foreign workers is insufficient."

He said employers had not received a clear set of regulations for the mandatory screening process.

"It is not clear whether the testing is to be done every two weeks and if so, can employers claim the RM60 subsidy for every Covid-19 test required to be done on their foreign employees?

"Another concern is the non-standardisation of the testing fee, which ranges from RM80 to RM180 per screening," he said, adding that he hoped that employers would be given double tax deductions on the cost of Covid-19 screening.

Master Builders Association Malaysia president Foo Chek Lee said the construction industry players had to shoulder a larger financial burden for the testing despite Socso's subsidy.

"While we are grateful for the RM60 subsidy from Socso, the remaining amount, including the hospital and facilities' cost, which has to be paid, may still be too high for self-employed or small-time contractors.

"So we hope Socso will continue to subsidise the Covid-19 testing cost for subsequent tests, if required.

"Also, the government should provide a subsidy to reduce the cost of health maintenance, like sanitisation, and the cost of personal protective equipment.

"They should consider establishing a centralised labour camp for quarantine and bear the operational costs to avoid foreign workers skipping the quarantine period.

"More importantly, we hope the government will come up with a single and unified standard operating procedure (SOP) for the construction industry and only the Construction Industry Development Board should be tasked with enforcement."

Foo gave an assurance that construction industry players will stay vigilant and strive to remain productive without compromising any SOP.

"Based on the Works Ministry's guidelines (up to Nov 18), foreigners who have applied for the Covid-19 testing or are awaiting test results are allowed to work, provided they are not symptomatic and they comply with the SOP."

"Therefore, we will adhere to all the SOP while trying to make ends meet."

Source: New Straits Times


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