MTUC: Set clear guidelines on screening foreign workers for Covid-19

Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) logo

KUCHING, May 16: The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) has called on the federal government to set clear guidelines and directives on the screening of foreign workers for Covid-19.

MTUC secretary general J Solomon in a press statement today said the federal government must spell out exactly how many times foreign workers need to be tested for Covid-19 to ensure those who are free of the virus are allowed to return to work.

“There is still a lot of ambiguity on the government’s move to enforce Covid-19 screening for foreign workers who remain a vital cog in the economy.

“The government must urgently come out with clear guidelines and a relevant Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) to address the various scenarios pertaining to Covid-19 testing for employees.

“Last Monday, Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob had told the media that the government was looking into getting employers to provide a tag or identification to indicate that a foreign worker has undergone a Covid-19 swab test.

“He said that the tag was to enable the public to identify foreign workers who had undergone a Covid-19 test.

“However, yesterday (May 15) the Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said Ministry of Health (MoH) was only agreeable to provide letters valid for a specific time frame for employers to affirm workers who tested negative for the virus.

“Dr Noor Hisham has rightly stressed that Covid-19 negative tag or identification cannot be issued to employees who have undergone the tests as it might give the impression that the person can no longer be infected.

“(Thus) MoH has clearly stated that workers can still be infected by Covid-19 beyond a certain time frame, after undergoing test, if they are exposed to the virus.

“In view of this, the government and employers must not give the impression that a single test will be enough to ensure the safety of employees and to minimise the possibility of outbreaks at work places.

“As the government dials down many of the restrictions introduced on March 18 in its bid to kick-start the economy, the safety of workers remains a top priority as it is a pre-requisite in ensuring businesses remain open.

“Therefore, Malaysia must come out with clear measures on periodic testing of both local and foreign workers that would ensure public safety and help sustain the government’s efforts to revive the economy,” Solomon said.

Solomon recalled that the federal government had said that the Social Security Organisation (Socso) would pay for the tests of all workers who contributed to the fund, including foreign workers.

In making the announcement, he believed the federal government implied that the tests would be a one-off screening as a pre-condition for workers to return to work.

However, he opined that a one-off or single test on workers, specifically foreign employees currently targeted for the screening is far from enough to ensure workplaces remain free of Covid-19 outbreaks.

Hence, Solomon believed employees needed to undergo periodic testing to achieve this objective.

However, he noted that the federal government had been silent on the important aspect.

“If periodic testing is required, will Socso still be made to foot the bill which obviously will be very expensive and impact its coffers?

“We reiterate that Socso funds which are designated for the social needs of the workers must not be used for Covid-19 screenings as it is clearly the responsibility of the government and employers to do so.

“Sadly, Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob has failed to address this important matter in his daily press conferences.

“If workers are only required to undergo a single one-off test, what happens if one or more employees are later on found to be infected with Covid-19?

“Will the whole work force be quarantined and undergo testing.

“Will the work place be shuttered?,” he asked.—DayakDaily