NGOs welcome Socso protection for foreign workers

There are presently some 1.9 million legal foreign workers in the country.

PETALING JAYA: NGOs have welcomed the move by the human resources ministry to include foreign workers, including domestic workers, under Social Security Organisation (Socso) coverage beginning early next year, calling it a step in the right direction.

Tenaganita director Glorene Das said it showed Putrajaya’s initiative in creating a system that was equal and beneficial to all workers, including domestic workers, who are currently in an informal sector.

However, she voiced concern over the transparency of such a system and the deductions made from their monthly wages.

She said Tenaganita had handled cases in which wrongful deductions from workers’ salaries were continuously made, many of which were not reflected in the payslips of those in formal sectors.

“If this is the case for them, what more for domestic workers who have no payslips or transaction slips?” she said when contacted by FMT.

She recommended that a monitoring system be put in place for such deductions, although she acknowledged that this might be difficult for domestic workers who are in an isolated and confined situation.

“We look forward to consultation with grassroots civil society organisations and NGOs, together with the ministry, to gain better understanding of this new policy so that accurate information can be shared with workers,” she said.

Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran, who made the announcement yesterday, said it was to standardise labour laws in the country to match conventions under the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

At present, he said, the country’s 1.9 million legal foreign workers were covered under the Workmen’s Compensation Act 1952 and any individual insurance policy taken by employers for their foreign workers.

Calling the Workmen’s Compensation Act 1952 outdated, Kulasegaran said it would be abolished soon. He said Socso’s benefits alone would be enough as they outweighed the one-off payout to workers of only RM20,000.

Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) secretary-general J Solomon said the move was long overdue. He said his organisation had long protested the 1993 downgrading of migrant workers from Socso coverage to that under the Workers Compensation Scheme.

Since then, he said, workplace accidents involving migrant workers had remained blatantly unequal.

“When the then-government refused to consider our protest, MTUC raised it with the ILO. The first time the Committee of Application of Standards (CAS) examined the case was in 1996.

“In the last International Labour Conference (ILC) held in June, MTUC vehemently presented our arguments to the CAS. They were accepted by the government for serious consideration, but this required some time.”

He noted the support of members from other international tripartite bodies who had agreed that the Malaysian government should seriously consider providing equal treatment for national and foreign workers in compensation for accidents.

“This time, the ILC committee called on the government to accept an ILO direct contact mission with the view of implementing these recommendations and developing mechanisms for overcoming the practical issues affecting the implementation of the domestic social security scheme to migrant workers,” he said.

He gave the example of the nine foreign workers who were killed in the recent landslide at a construction site in Bukit Kukus, Penang, saying their families would lose out in lifetime compensation. He urged the government and employers to ensure that sufficient compensation is given on humanitarian grounds.

“It is a double disaster for the families of the dead migrant workers as they have lost their monthly remittance as well as their loved ones,” he said.

He suggested that the government convene a social dialogue whenever MTUC protests the implementation of policies affecting workers, and take the necessary steps to rectify the situation.

“This would be better than leaving MTUC with no choice but to raise it at the ILC for remedy,” he said.