PETALING JAYA: Industry players have welcomed the Cabinet’s decision to provide free vaccination to documented and undocumented foreign workers but expressed concern over how the latter would be covered under the immunisation plan.
Federation of Manufacturers Malaysia (FMM) president Tan Sri Soh Thian Lai said FMM appreciates the government for including non-Malaysians, such as expatriates and foreign workers in the country, in the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme, saying that non-citizens also play an important role in supporting our economic activities and growth.
“Hence, we laud the decision of the government to include them (foreigners) in the vaccination programme.
“FMM had also called for an action plan to address illegal foreign workers in the country given that this group is a big Covid-19 threat and risk to the nation.
“In this regard, we welcome the decision of the government that had agreed in principle to include undocumented workers in the free national vaccination programme, ” Soh said.
The government should consider offering an amnesty programme alongside the vaccination programme with the option for undocumented workers to either get documented or to return home with no compound or blacklisting imposed, he suggested.
He said it was vital to formulate an effective and transparent strategy with the relevant government agencies and foreign embassies or high commissions to encourage individuals to come forward voluntarily to get vaccinated.
“This would also prevent profiteering by any third parties in this process, ” he added.
Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan agreed that the decision to vaccinate legal and illegal foreign workers was commendable.
It would help employers who hire legal foreign workers to save on the cost of vaccinations, which is estimated to be RM132mil, he said.
“If the cost of the Covid-19 vaccine is RM77.35 per person, the government’s decision to give free vaccination to illegal foreign workers will greatly help in containing the Covid-19 infections.
“Illegal foreign workers will not likely spend their own money to pay for the cost, ” he said.
But mobilising some 1.7 million legal foreign workers to the vaccination centres to get the jabs would be a big challenge, he said.
MEF suggested that vaccination centres be set up near workplaces so that workers would not spend a lot of time getting the jabs.
“It would be better for the vaccination to be done on site for employers with large numbers of foreign workers, ” he said.
Shamsuddin also cautioned that it would be difficult to get illegal foreign workers to be vaccinated as they would be scared to come forward.
“The government needs to come up with a clear and transparent policy on vaccination for illegal foreign workers so that they can come forward to be vaccinated, ” he said.
Shamsuddin also suggested that the government consider issuing a card certifying that an individual is vaccinated, and said the card could be used for travelling inter-district, interstate or even overseas.
Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Association of Malaysia president Datuk Michael Kang said the government should perhaps run a registration and legalisation process of all undocumented workers in the country for the vaccination programme within the next six months.
“Those who are still illegal (and don’t come forward to be vaccinated or registered) should be sent back to their original country, ” he added.
Kang said all in the private sector need to work with the government to ensure the success of the vaccination programme and subsequently break the chain of Covid-19 infection in the country.
Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma) president Datuk Jawahar Ali Taib Khan said he is thankful to the government for including foreign workers in the vaccination plan.
“We will definitely work with the government to ensure our workers are vaccinated, ” he said.
Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) deputy president Mohd Effendy Abdul Ghani said that while the union welcomed the decision to vaccinate foreign workers, the locals should be prioritised.
Mohd Effendy said MTUC understood the need to break the chain of infections among foreign workers and suggested that workers, both foreign and local, in the construction, manufacturing and service industries be prioritised.
“Our stand is to first prioritise local workers, but we are not denying that the immunisation plan should also include foreign workers.
“What we are suggesting is that all workers in the high-risk sectors, such as construction, manufacturing and service industry, be given priority because we see many clusters coming from these sectors.”
Mohd Effendy also suggested that the second phase of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme include and prioritise workers from these sectors.
On Friday, the Special Committee on Ensuring Access to Covid-19 Vaccine Supply said the Cabinet had agreed that vaccinations, which are set to begin at the end of the month, would also be given free of charge to non-citizens in Malaysia.
The government had also agreed in principle to provide free vaccination to undocumented foreign workers, and the Committee said it would look into how this would be implemented.