Foreign workers helped build Malaysia, let’s help them in return
PETALING JAYA: Much of Malaysia's physical development as a nation should be credited to the hard work of foreign workers. Yes, the nation owes them this much.
From the bygone era of Chinese tin miners and Indian rubber tappers to present-day Indonesian or Bangladeshi construction workers; all of them came to Malaysia in search of a better life by doing jobs that not many of our own were willing to do.
To accuse them of being a "burden" to the country's healthcare system, without identifying or resolving the root causes of related problems, is grossly unfair.
Labour activist Charles Hector Fernandez said there should not be any unpaid bills by documented foreign workers at government hospitals as they are insured under the Workmen’s Compensation Act 1952.
"The law is simple (but) the present problem is that employers are paying very little (in insurance premium) to the appointed companies.
"The law also states that any excess charges (incurred by foreign workers) should be recovered from public funds," Fernandez told theantdaily.
The Workmen’s Compensation Act was amended in 2006, making it compulsory for all employers to insure their foreign workers under the Foreign Workers’ Compensation Scheme at the current annual premium of RM120.
Failure to do so is an offence punishable with a fine not exceeding RM20,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or both.
Fernandez noted that the problem is made worst by the fact that foreign workers are charged first class rates for treatment at government hospitals and there were cases where they personally could not afford to settle the bills.
He was responding to DAP national assistant publicity secretary Teo Nie Ching who raised concerns over what she described as being the "hidden social costs" of hiring foreign workers.
The Kulai MP in a statement claimed that foreign workers have become a "burden" to the country's healthcare system due to their large amount of unpaid bills at government hospitals.
"In Sabah alone, the unpaid bills by foreign workers have increased from RM21.54 million as at 2011 to RM40.9 million as at April 30, 2013," said Teo in urging the government to come up with a comprehensive plan to address such problems related to foreign workers.
On another issue, Fernandez also described it as "nonsense" for certain quarters to suggest that migrant workers is the cause of an increase in tuberculosis (TB) and other diseases in Malaysia as they are required to undergo two health screenings before being allowed to secure employment.
"Employers should be held responsible for the working and living conditions of foreign labourers if they have contracted TB and other transmittable diseases.
"These (transmittable) diseases must now be classified as occupational diseases and the migrant worker should be adequately compensated to cover the treatment, and also the loss of earning opportunity when his employment period in Malaysia is suddenly shortened," said Fernandez.
In a posting on his blog, Fernandez cited a Dec 29 report quoting Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Hilmi Yahaya as saying that 20,000 out of 30,000 foreign workers brought into Malaysia had failed the health screening carried out by the ministry.
Hilmi also reportedly said there were foreign workers who had passed the health screening carried out in their home countries but failed the test here.
"In such cases, the government should call for action to be taken against the recruitment agencies involved in sending workers to Malaysia for compromising the health-screening process," stressed Fernandez.
He also urged the government to introduce a law to mandate a minimum standard of housing for foreign workers as a preventive measure against the spread of transmittable diseases.
Instead of taking the easy way out by blaming foreign workers for various social problems in Malaysia, or launching sporadic crackdowns to weed out undocumented migrants, it is high time that the government come up with a cohesive plan to address fundamental issues that will not only benefit the workers, but also be in line with plans to be a developed nation within the next six years. - The Ant Daily, 8/1/2014, Foreign workers helped build Malaysia, let’s help them in return