‘Most have been screened’

PETALING JAYA: With the March 31 deadline nearing, most documented foreign workers in four major economic sectors have been tested for Covid-19 screening, says the Human Resources Minister.

Adding to the soothing news, Datuk Seri M. Saravanan (pic) said there was also increasing compliance among the industry players to provide the required housing for their workers.

So far, nearly 1.5 million foreign workers had been screened with the bulk of them – totalling 1.2 million – being in the manufacturing, construction, plantation and agricultural sectors nationwide, he said.

As the services industry had just resumed operations, data from restaurants and hotels which employed foreign workers was still being compiled, he said.

Saravanan said the Emergency Ordinance which was recently passed made it easier for the authorities to enter premises and conduct checks on foreign workers.

“From the data that the ministry has, the number of foreign workers screened to date stands at almost 1.5 million.

“The manufacturing, construction, plantation and agricultural sectors contributed to some of the biggest clusters, ” he said when contacted yesterday.

The ministry had given employers an extension until March 31 to complete the Covid-19 screening on their foreign workers.

Previously, they had until Feb 28 to screen their foreign workers, with a warning that failure to do so could result in their workers’ passes not being renewed.

Initially, the ministry limited the Covid-19 screening programme on foreign workers to six states under the red zone category but the government decided to extend it to all states following the effectiveness in curbing the pandemic.

From Feb 1, the government made it mandatory for all foreign workers to be screened for Covid-19 after the emergence of large clusters of infected foreign workers, mainly attributed to poor living conditions.

The screening programme was implemented by the Social Security Organisation (Socso) with the cooperation of private clinics, with Socso bearing the cost of the RTK Antigen test kits.

The Construction Industry Development Board set aside an allocation of RM7mil to subsidise the screening of foreign workers registered with it.

Last May, the Malaysian Employers Federation estimated that the total number of foreign workers in the country at four million, with 2.3 million being legal.

On housing standards for foreign workers, Saravanan said the ministry had been conducting checks to ensure that the four main industry sectors were up to par on this as required by the International Labour Organisation.

Labour Department director-general Asri Ab Rahman said the compliance rate on providing proper housing for foreign workers had now increased from 10% to 30%.

“This is because more are aware of the need to comply and know that we mean business, ” he said.

Late last year, the ministry began enforcing the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990 (Act 446). Employers flouting regulations face fines of RM50,000 per worker.

To ensure there was enough manpower to conduct checks on screening of foreign workers and their housing, the Public Service Department had conducted remobilisation on Feb 26, he said.

He said this enabled enforcement teams from the Home and Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs ministries, Occupational Safety and Health Department and local authorities to be roped in.

“This allowed us to go all out on the inspection of sites and workers’ housing areas.

“We are also working together with industry watch groups such as the Master Builders Association to assist us supervise their own industry players, ” he added.

Asri said there was no deadline set yet on when the industry players must meet the housing requirements as the government was now in the “educating and advising” phase.

“If the area we inspect shows that the workers’ housing can be remedied, then we serve them a notice period. If the place is deplorable, we ask them to vacate and move to a better one, ” he pointed out.

Asri said with the national economy in recovery mode, the government decided that industry players must be helped so that businesses did not completely shut down.

“These are of course short-term measures which we have put in place for now, ” he added.

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