KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 1 — Foreign workers face huge financial barriers in accessing health care services in Malaysia, said Khazanah Research Institute (KRI).
KRI, in a report titled “Social Inequalities and Health in Malaysia” released today, stated that the fees imposed on migrant labourers in government hospitals carry a significant cost burden on foreign workers, considering they are often paid lower wages.
For example, Malaysians only need to pay RM3 per day for ward admission at government hospitals, while foreigners have to pay 53.3 times extra per day (RM160). Meanwhile, for outpatient treatment, foreigners are charged RM40, as compared to RM1 for Malaysians.
Documented foreign workers are usually enrolled in a mandatory health insurance scheme, but migrant workers typically still have to pay out of their pockets for medical treatment as the insurance schemes only provide limited coverage for hospitalisation as well as, surgery charges for government hospitals.
The actual number of foreign workers in Malaysia is uncertain, said KRI, but data from past Labour Force Survey reports suggest that foreign workers make up 14 to 16 per cent of total employed persons in the country.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 2017 found that despite foreign workers contributing to a huge proportion of Malaysia’s workforce, there’s still limited legal protection for them in Malaysia.
ILO found that foreign workers have to work nine to 11 hours daily for six or seven days per week, exceeding the country’s legal working hours of maximum 48 hours per week. Despite that, majority of foreign workers in Malaysia still earn below the legal minimum wage, especially undocumented ones.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, many businesses in Malaysia have closed, forcing workers, especially foreigners, to be laid off, leading to these workers losing their documented migrant worker status at to an undocumented migrant status.
Hence, foreign workers, especially undocumented ones, are less likely to seek medical care for the fear of being detained or deported, while some may not know if they carry the Covid-19 infection, especially when they are asymptomatic.
An anonymous medical officer from Tawau Hospital previoulsy told CodeBlue that many undocumented migrants come in late for treatment for Covid-19 because they will have to pay high hospital bills.
KRI also pointed out that a lot more should be done to improve foreign workers’ conditions in the country. For example, mass detention of undocumented foreign workers could worsen their living conditions as they would be forced to stay together, in more cramped quarters in immigrant detention centres.
The Benteng LD cluster that sparked the Covid-19 outbreak in Sabah started in a detention centre, first detected in two undocumented detainees. This cluster has recorded a total of 1,146 positive Covid-19 cases so far, as of November 25.
KRI stressed that Malaysia’s national strategy to limit the spread and impact of Covid-19 should not exclude foreign workers.
Citing Singapore, KRI in their report stated how Singapore has managed to control its Covid-19 epidemic, which was majorly reported among foreign workers, by building new dormitories for them to reduce congestion in their previous dormitories.
Singapore has also tested all its foreign workers through mass testing, detecting over 90 per cent of the island republic’s Covid-19 cases among foreign workers. Malaysia, on the other hand, uses a targeted testing method for Covid-19 rather than practicing a mass testing method.
Malaysia’s largest cluster as of today, the Teratai cluster in the Klang Valley, was detected among migrant workers of a rubber glove factory by Top Glove Corporation in Klang, Selangor. The Teratai cluster now has 4,260 infected people and a positivity rate of 64.6 per cent.
Human Resources Minister M. Saravanan, who visited Top Glove’s housing for their workers, said that the workers’ hostels are in a terrible condition, despite Top Glove officials claiming that they have made improvements on the living conditions for their migrant workers.
The Human Resources Ministry said in a statement today that the Department of Labour Peninsular Malaysia has opened 19 investigation papers against companies in the Top Glove group for allegedly failing to comply with the Workers’ Minimum Standard of Housing and Amenities Act 1990 (Act 446).
The main offence, said the ministry, was that the glove manufacturer had failed to apply for accommodation certification, and provided dense workers’ accommodation and hostels with poor ventilation and living conditions. The investigations covered six Top Glove subsidiaries after enforcement operations against the company were carried out in Perak, Kedah, Kelantan, Negeri Sembilan, and Johor.
KRI said that the government should consider policy options that include facilitating Covid-19 testing, treatment, and isolation of foreign workers, stepping up job protection, and strengthening regional cooperation and coordination with Malaysia’s neighbouring countries.