A new rule to make foreigners here pay the full cost of medical treatment at public healthcare facilities by 2017 will further oppress foreign workers and drive the cost of business up, labour rights activists and employers say.
Labour activists are concerned that it will worsen things for foreign workers who are already subjected to low wages and bonded labour, while employers worry that it will add to the cost of doing business.
The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) questioned the rationale as these workers were already paying tax in the form of a yearly levy for such services.
Concerned that employers would bear the extra cost, MEF executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan called the ruling unfair and said the organisation would ask the Health Ministry to reconsider the ruling.
“They already pay a levy to the government to utilise some of our public services, such as public hospitals, so it is not fair that they are charged the full rate,” Shamsuddin told The Malaysian Insider in a WhatsApp message from Bangkok.
He added that employers would end up bearing the higher medical costs and this in turn would raise the cost of doing business.
Health Minister Datuk Seri S. Subramaniam announced in Parliament last week that medical subsidies for foreigners would be removed in phases beginning January next year until 2017.
This means that foreigners here will begin paying higher fees by 30% next year, another 30% in 2016 and 40% by 2017, by which time they would be paying full fees.
He had said that this would amount to twice the current fees.
Activist Aegile Fernandez, director of Tenaganita, an NGO that advocates the rights of migrant labourers, said that these workers were already lowly paid and the ruling would further burden them.
She also noted that the workers were usually healthy upon arrival in the country because of the stringent health checks Malaysia imposed, but they ended up getting ill because of poor living conditions and their long working hours.
“We don’t seem to be appreciating the fact that they are here to help develop our country.
“And if their working and living conditions are of high quality and they are given enough time to rest, they would not be falling ill in the first place.”
Fernandez also said the latest ruling only proved that all their discussions and engagements with the Health Ministry had amounted to nothing.
“We have had dialogues with them on health and even diseases among migrant workers but it has obviously not contributed in any way if they have come up with this ruling,” a disappointed Fernandez said.
She said groups that would suffer the most were those working in the plantation, manufacturing and construction sectors.
She added that the onus was now upon employers to look into matters affecting their workers’ health and medical bills.
At present, foreign workers in the manufacturing and construction sectors in Peninsular Malaysia are imposed a yearly levy of RM1,250 while those working in plantations are subject to a yearly levy of RM590 per person.
Migrant workers in the services sector, including restaurants and wholesale businesses, have to pay RM1,850 in yearly levy.
Malaysian Trades Union Congress president Mohamad Khalid Atan also labelled it an unfair policy that would have a negative impact on the livelihood of foreign workers.
He called on Putrajaya to rethink the policy given that Malaysia was dependent on foreign labour with the number of migrant workers standing at 6.77 million currently, of which only 2.9 million were documented.
“As it is, even with the RM900 minimum wage, there are so many deductions, including for levy and even accommodation.
“If the government imposes this now, what else is there left for them to live on?” Khalid asked. He said that this would result in the workers ending up owing money to employers by taking advance pay to survive.
“This means they would be indebted to the company and so they would be bonded, and this will be tantamount to bonded labour.
“These things are already happening because other than deductions by employers for accommodation and levy, they are other unnecessary deductions being imposed on these workers.”
He said that given that Malaysia was dependent on foreign labour in almost all sectors of business, the economy could face a slowdown if these workers decided it was not cost-effective to work here.
news source & image credits: themalaysianinsider.com