Wednesday, February 18, 2015

New hospital fees oppress foreign workers further, says MTUC (Malaysiakini)

New hospital fees oppress foreign workers further

COMMENT It is most disturbing to find out that migrant workers are required to pay a deposit of RM600 before they be warded in a public hospital, and a deposit of RM1,200 if they are being warded for surgery or for childbirth.

When the monthly minimum wage in Peninsular Malaysia is RM900, and RM800 in Sabah and Sarawak, how could anyone reasonably believe that migrant workers will be able to afford to pay such outrageous deposits before they can receive required healthcare?

Malaysia may want to have a different rate for foreigners using public healthcare facilities and services, but this should definitely not include migrant workers.

Migrant workers come to work in Malaysia because employers in Malaysia require workers, and the Malaysian government wants them to come. Migrant workers, usually coming from poorer countries, come here to earn money for themselves and their families or dependents back home.

Many migrant workers already incurred debts of RM6,000 – RM15,000 to come to Malaysia.

When here, many discover that they have been cheated in the actual salary and benefits of employment that they will receive. Many migrant workers did not enjoy the right to minimum wages until the end of December 2014, and many were also placed in situations where their fellow local workers were paid minimum wages whilst they were not. A large number are now burdened with levy, insurance and other payments.

Paying through the nose to get sick leave

Migrant workers are workers in Malaysia, and like all workers, they must be treated equally. The Malaysia Trade Union Congress and unions in Malaysia represents all workers, and we certainly do not agree to discriminatory treatment against any one class of workers, more so when it concerns healthcare.

The right to paid sick leave and hospitalisation leave is provided for in Malaysian law.

Today, when a migrant worker goes to see a doctor in a government clinic he or she will have to pay a registration fee of RM50, whilst a citizen only pays RM1.

A worker generally needs to produce a medical certificate to the employer to be entitled to claim for paid sick leave. It is a grave injustice when a worker is required to pay so much more than the daily minimum of about RM34 to be able to even claim this right to sick leave.

Some employers have private panel doctors, to which their workers are expected to go but sadly there have been cases that these panel doctors sometimes do not even give sick leave even when worker is really too sick for work.

This may have something to do with continuing to be panel doctor of the employer in the future.

Hence, the only option is to go to a government doctor at public hospitals, who have no vested interest, and will be true in his/her diagnosis and required treatment. No one in a public hospital will be warded or undergo surgery unless it is really required.

A worker is a worker, local or foreign

We also recall reported cases where employers delay in sending their migrant workers to get necessary healthcare have resulted in death of the migrant worker.

Migrant workers need the ability and capacity to go themselves to the hospital, see the doctor, get necessary treatment and even be warded, if needed, and this extremely high registration fee, deposit and charges imposed on all foreigners is a big problem.

The imposition of different laws and conditions on different classes of workers also is a great hurdle in the organizing, forming and strengthening of trade unions in Malaysia.

Both local and migrant workers are members of one and the same union, and as such policies and laws that creates particular problems to specific classes of workers can also be perceived as ‘union busting’ with the objective of weakening unions.

Unions cannot justify why a fellow union member, has to pay so much more to get healthcare just because he comes from a different country. For unions, workers are workers, and they all have to be treated equally irrespective of religion, ethnicity, gender or nationality.

MTUC urges that the government to immediately exempt all migrant workers from having to pay foreigner rates for usage of public facilities and services of healthcare in Malaysia. Migrant workers, just like local workers, should be paying the same rates.

MTUC also urges the Malaysian government to treat all workers equally, and stop attempts of ‘union busting’ when they create laws or policies that results in one class of workers being treated differently other workers, or when such laws and policies disrupts or threatens worker unity and solidarity.

N GOPAL KRISHNAN is MTUC secretary-general.


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