Parliament Debate on ministries’ budgets: Manpower

Better access to primary healthcare for migrant workers

The Covid-19 outbreak has highlighted pre-existing gaps in primary healthcare available to migrant workers, and work is now being done to examine how long-term access to primary healthcare can be made available to them in a cost-effective and culturally sensitive way.

This was announced by Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng during the debate on the Manpower Ministry's budget yesterday.

"Often, migrant workers might delay or avoid seeking medical attention until the condition worsens significantly, with negative consequences for health, employment and work outcomes both for the worker as well as their employers," said Dr Tan.

Since the outbreak, the Government has made it easier for migrant workers to access good primary care, and this will need to be sustained to detect public health threats early.

Moving forward, access to primary healthcare can be improved by, for instance, having every migrant worker registered with a designated medical centre or GP clinic near to where they stay and work, so as to foster better doctor-patient relationships, said Dr Tan.

MOM is also reviewing medical insurance coverage for migrant workers to help employers better manage medical expenses, and to give both employers and workers a greater peace of mind, he said. An update will be given later this year.

In response to Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) and Workers' Party MP Leon Perera (Aljunied GRC), who voiced concerns about the recruitment process of migrant workers, including the high fees they pay, Dr Tan said that MOM has been stepping up education and enforcement efforts over the years.

Mr Perera also asked if MOM could consider setting up a standardised job portal for workers looking for jobs here.

Dr Tan said that while this is a possible option, different employers tap various channels to recruit employees, and if the Government mandates a centralised portal, it may limit the flexibility of employers to address their hiring needs.

Dr Tan rejected a suggestion by Leader of the Opposition and WP chief Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) to require errant employers to pay foreign employees a penalty amounting to six months of their salaries for each instance of salary underpayment.

He said MOM already requires such employers to make full restitution of salary owed to the employee. If prosecuted, they also have to pay a fine or be jailed.

Workers can also continue to stay in Singapore to earn an income if they report their employers for salary underpayment, he said, as MOM will facilitate their transfer to new employers.

Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang also said yesterday that MOM has been reviewing measures to better support foreign domestic workers (FDWs) and protect them from abuse, citing the outrage over the recently reported case of Myanmar national Piang Ngaih Don, who was tortured and starved by her employer over several months and was eventually killed.

Some possible measures that MOM is looking into include mandatory days off, as well as requiring employment agents to conduct interviews after newly arrived workers start work with employers, said Ms Gan.

Currently, all FDWs are entitled to a weekly rest day, but employers can also compensate them if they agree to work on their rest day. ST understands that under the possible measure that MOM is looking into, employers could be required to give their domestic workers a regular rest day, and will no longer have the option of compensating workers if they agree to work in lieu of rest.

Other measures include working with doctors to better identify signs of abuse or distress. More updates will be given in due course, said Ms Gan.

Yuen Sin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2021, with the headline 'Better access to primary healthcare for migrant workers'. Subscribe