Offer subsidised tests to foreign workers too, says advocacy group

Construction workers watch as fogging goes underway in the morning around Block 401 Bedok North Ave 3 on 1 Sept, 2016.
Construction workers watch as fogging goes underway in the morning around Block 401 Bedok North Ave 3 on 1 Sept, 2016.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

A non-profit group that helps migrant workers has called for subsidised Zika testing to be offered to foreign workers too.

Transient Workers Count Too made the appeal yesterday, with its treasurer, Mr Alex Au, noting that the cost of the test may deter foreign workers from going for checks.

While Singaporeans and permanent residents with Zika symptoms can test for the virus at a subsidised rate of $60, foreign workers are considered private patients and have to pay the full $150.

"One test is roughly 10 days' pay," Mr Au told The Straits Times. "By providing the subsidies to them, we can lower the probability that people will not want to go see a doctor."

This would also encourage employers to send their workers for testing if they require it, he said.

Currently, some employers even forbid their workers from getting treatment so as to cut costs, he said.

He added that foreign workers are a vulnerable group, through whom mosquito-borne diseases could easily spread.

"We've seen it happen with dengue in 2007, and then with chikungunya in 2013," he said. "They first developed undetected among the foreign worker community."

Mr Kenneth Loo, president of the Singapore Contractors Association, told The Straits Times that subsidies would ease the financial burden of employers at a time when "the construction industry is going through a downturn".

"If there are subsidies for the workers, especially in a situation like now with the number of cases growing rapidly, then it will definitely ease the burden," he said.

But he also noted that under the Employment Act, employers are responsible for their workers' welfare.

"At the end of the day, whether there's a subsidy or not, it is our responsibility to send the workers to the doctors if they need medical attention," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2016, with the headline 'Offer subsidised tests to foreign workers too, says advocacy group'. Print Edition | Subscribe