No insurance, no approval

A Construction worker at a site in Bukit Jalil.AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

RECENTLY, I was called to attend to a patient who had been left in the hospital hallway over the weekend.

His employer refused to pay for his treatment and he had been waiting for three days for his friends to raise the RM2,000 deposit required for admission into the orthopaedics ward.

He was a construction worker and had fallen from the first-storey of the building where he was working. He was brought to the hospital by his friends on Friday at 11am shortly after he fell. He broke a bone in the back and had an ankle injury.

Looking through his papers, I found that his passport was valid and he had a work visa plus a letter from the Immigration Department stating that the visa his employer had applied for had been approved.

Hoping to trace the employer to get him to pay for the worker’s medical fees, I called the number on the letter but no one picked up the phone. When I tried again later, the phone was no longer ringing.

I then called the number of the Immigration Department printed on the letter. It was a hotline number. My call was transferred to the visa approval section, which verified that the work visa and passport were both valid. The person I spoke to also confirmed that the named employer was listed in their immigration records.

When I asked the immigration officer if a work visa could be approved without checking the worker’s medical insurance cover, he said I would have to call the enforcement division to get the answer. I waited forever while he looked for the division’s extension number.

All I wanted was to get the employer to pay for the worker’s treatment. The doctors on duty a day earlier had called at least three numbers to get in touch with the employer but they were not successful.

The injured worker’s friends informed us that the employer refused to pay. They said it was a normal affair and they would rally around and kumpul duit (collect money) in such cases.

Luckily, with the help of an NGO, we were able to track down the employer and persuade him to make the payment.

By the way, the employer was not the one named on the work visa, which begs several questions.

Isn’t it the Immigration Department’s duty to check the employer’s status to determine whether it is the real company employing the said workers or a bogus one? Doesn’t the process of approving a work visa application include checking if the worker is also insured? Isn’t this one of the prerequisites for approving a work visa?

Under Section 63A of the Employment Act 1955, an employer must register the work place of a migrant employee with the Department of Labour, Peninsular Malaysia or Jabatan Tenaga Kerja Semenanjung Malaysia (JKTSM).

The law in Malaysia also provides for medical protection to migrant workers. What seems to be lacking is the enforcement and implementation. When the cat seems to be asleep, the mice will run wild. The employers are not afraid even though they are not obeying the law.

Under Section 26 of the Workmen’s Compensation (Amendment) Act 1996, it is mandatory for employers to insure all their foreign workers under the Foreign Workers Compensation Scheme, which provides the workers with personal accident and repatriation benefits due to an accident arising out of or during their course of employment. The premium must be paid by the employer, and protection under this scheme is a requirement for visa application.

There is also a hospitalisation and surgical scheme for foreign workers under the Health Ministry which requires employers to provide workers with medical insurance effective Jan 1, 2011. This scheme would pay for the workers’ hospital bills for up to RM10,000 a year with a premium payment of just RM120 per year.

In 2014, according to the Pemandu website, 1.7 million foreign workers out of a total of 2.1 million were insured under the Foreign Worker’s Health Insurance Protection Scheme. More needs to be done to ensure all employers comply with the regulation to insure their workers. Applications for work permit must not be approved if no insurance is provided.

The Immigration Department officers I spoke to were not at all surprised that a migrant worker with a valid work permit did not have insurance. This attitude must change.

Every Immigration Department employee should be alert for information about employers who are breaking the law on migrant workers’ safety and health.

Enforcement with multi-government agency cooperation is needed for better healthcare of migrant workers. They are working to build our country and we must provide adequate and affordable medical care for them through strict law enforcement.



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