Bar Council hails move to put foreign workers under Socso

Foreign workers currently come under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, which critics say offers inadequate protection.

PETALING JAYA: The Bar Council has welcomed the government’s decision to repeal the Workmen’s Compensation Act to pave the way towards giving foreign workers protection under the Social Security Organisation (Socso).

“It’s an important milestone in the protection of migrant workers in Malaysia,” said M Ramachelvam, who chairs the Bar Council’s Migrants, Refugees and Immigration Affairs Committee.

Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran announced last week that the 1952 act would be repealed so that local and foreign workers would get equal protection.

Currently, foreign workers come under the act’s Foreign Workers’ Compensation Scheme, which Ramachelvam said did not give them adequate protection. With the repeal of the act, foreign workers will be placed under the protection of Socso, and the government plans to do this by early next year.

Ramachelvam said the decision would be in line with the International Labour Organisation’s Equality of Treatment (Accident Compensation) Convention, which Malaysia has ratified.

He noted that Malaysia had been repeatedly criticised for not complying with the treaty, which calls for equal treatment of foreign and local workers.

He said the benefits provided under Socso were more comprehensive than those given under the Workmen’s Compensation Act.

Giving an example of the weakness of the act, he said there had been reports of employers covering up even fatal accidents.

He alleged that there had been cases in which bodies were sent back to the workers’ countries of origin without the knowledge of the Labour Department. He also spoke of burials done in Malaysia without the department’s knowledge.

He added that if a worker were to die outside of working hours at a location other than his workplace, there would be no investigation to see if the death was linked to work-related conditions.

“The insurance required under the act does cover death outside working hours and at locations other than the workplace,” he said. “The claim would then be made directly to the insurance company, and not to the Labour Department. But even then, this would not be done.”

He said some employers would not report a death or injury to avoid inspection by the Department of Occupational Safety and Health and to avoid an increase in the insurance premium.

“Workers’ ignorance also plays a part. We have had a case in which a worker was sent back home with severe injuries and died in Nepal. There was no compensation because no one there reported it.”

He also alleged that some employers would not report their workers’ injuries to avoid paying hospitalisation or medical charges.

“The insurance for surgery and hospitalisation is low, but the hospital charges are high. So the leftover cost would have to be paid by the employer.”

Under Socso, the employer will contribute an amount equivalent to a portion of an employee’s monthly salary to a solidarity pool fund. Any employee who is involved in a work-related or commuting accident or who has contracted an occupational disease is entitled to free medical treatment at a Socso panel clinic or any government health facility.

Socso states on its website that it provides protection to employees and their dependants through two schemes. The Employment Injury Scheme insures employees against occupational injuries, including diseases, and accidents that happen during work-related travel. The Invalidity Scheme provides 24-hour protection against invalidity or death occurring outside working hours.

Both schemes provide cash benefits to employees and their dependants. The schemes also provide medical treatment and physical rehabilitation.

The move to place foreign workers under Socso was also welcomed by Adrian Pereira, executive director of the North-South Initiative, an organisation dedicated to the protection of migrant rights.

However, he called for assurances of effective monitoring and enforcement.

He also called for the restoration of subsidies for healthcare as well as a higher minimum wage “so that migrants won’t have to work to death”.