Coronavirus: Malaysian employers push back against footing the bill to test foreign workers

There are about 2.3 million registered foreign workers in Malaysia. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysian employers say the government, and not companies, should pay for Covid-19 tests for foreign workers that they employ.

The employers were pushing back against comments by Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob on Monday (May 40 that the government wants all migrant workers to be tested with employers footing the bill.

There are about 2.3 million registered foreign workers in Malaysia, mostly in blue-collar jobs. There is also an estimated 3 million more migrants from other countries who work in Malaysia illegally.

The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) said the testing requirement might be a knee-jerk reaction to the cases detected at a Jalan Ampang construction site in Kuala Lumpur.

Said MEF executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan it was unfair to conclude that foreign workers were the cause of many Covid-19 cases.

"On one hand, we have been allowed to operate to help us survive, but now they are saying we must pay for the tests, " he said in a statement.

Mr Shamsuddin said the government should bear the cost of the tests.

"We understand that the government can only do 16,000 tests a day. Even if all are reserved for foreign workers, it would take almost half a year to screen all of them, " he said.

He said a swab test cost at least RM500 (S$164), and there were 2.3 million registered foreign workers in the country.

Based on these figures, he said, employers would go out of business if they had to pay for the tests.

Datuk Jamarulkhan Kadir, president of Malaysian Indian Muslim Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said many small and medium enterprises were on the verge of collapse and the added burden of paying for the costs would be a big blow.

While testing was a good idea and a fair concern of the government, he said, it should be for those in the Covid-19 'red zone' areas such as Masjid India or Selayang in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, respectively.

"What's the purpose of conducting tests in, say, Penang or Perlis, which have no cases recorded in the past few weeks?" he asked.

Senior Minister said has said that the new ruling applied to foreign workers in all economic sectors, including those working in shops, restaurants, factories, construction sites, and other service-based businesses.

He said this was decided by the government following the increase in cases over the past few days, the majority of which were foreign workers.

"Foreign workers in all sectors will have to do swab tests and the cost will have to be borne by employers. The Health Ministry has proposed for the compulsory swab tests to start in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, " he said.

According to the Health Ministry, 21,271 non-Malaysians had been screened for Covid-19, with 811 testing positive.

As of April 30, four foreigners have died in Malaysia after contracting the disease, out of the total of 105 deaths caused by the virus.

Malaysia on Tuesday reported 30 new coronavirus cases, bringing the cumulative total to 6,383 cases. The health ministry also reported one new death, raising the total fatalities to 106.

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