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MTUC: Improve foreign workers' housing, Covid-19 testing insufficient

KUALA LUMPUR (May 26): The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) said today it fully supports Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Dr N Ganabaskaran's call on employers to improve the poor living conditions of foreign workers in the country and recognise the fact that merely testing their employees would be insufficient to prevent an outbreak of Covid-19.

In a statement today, MTUC secretary-general J Solomon said the MMA, just like the MTUC, has also observed that the majority of foreign workers in the country stay in overcrowded, cramped dormitories, construction site cabins, shoplot rooms, terrace houses and apartments, where physical distancing may be almost impossible to observe.

"MTUC strongly urges the relevant agencies to immediately conduct a nationwide check on work places and foreign workers’ dormitories to mitigate fresh outbreaks of Covid-19 cases. Everyone is aware that inspections on such premises by the Labour Department are crucial if we want to eliminate the myriad of hygiene and safety issues that involved migrant workers over the last decade or so. Besides the current Covid-19 spread among them, we had seen the resurgence of diseases like TB (tuberculosis) and dysentery among others which were not heard of for some time in the country.

"The issue of a decent and safe housing for migrants has come to the fore now with the emergence of a fresh cluster of 44 Covid-19 cases at a construction site in Kuala Lumpur as revealed by the Health Ministry yesterday. This shows that the inspection of work places and foreign workers dormitories must be expedited nationwide.

"Also yesterday, the MMA joined the MTUC in urging the authorities to do more than just have foreign workers undergo Covid-19 screenings, as it may give workers and employers a false sense of security,” Solomon said.

Solomon claimed the MTUC regretted that its calls have been ignored so far and there has been little or no monitoring to ensure employers enforce guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOP) at work places.

He claimed there has hardly been any move to compel employers to provide suitable accommodation for foreign workers to minimise the risk of infections.

"We hope with the latest warning coming from no less than the umbrella body of medical practitioners in this country, the employers and the government will take seriously the potential risk of Covid-19 outbreaks at work sites and workers dormitories if proper measures are not taken.

"We urge employers and the government to make this a top priority as any clusters in workers’ dormitories or living quarters will involve public safety as the employees normally live in rented apartments, houses or shop lots in residential areas,” he said.

Yesterday, news reports quoted Ganabaskaran as saying an SOP alone for foreign worker accommodation may be needed along with random checks by the authorities to curb the spread of Covid-19 among them.

"While testing of foreign workers will be necessary, steps must be taken to address the living conditions of foreign workers,” he said.

At the time of writing today, the Malaysian Employers Federation and the government had not issued statements in response to MTUC’s claims.

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