Friday January 18, 2013
Industry players need not take up insurance for foreign workers
By JACK WONG
KUCHING: Migrant labourers in the oil palm industry in Sarawak have been exempted from the Foreign Workers Health Insurance Protection Scheme.
The exemption was decided by the state government, a senior state immi- gration official confirmed with The Star yesterday.
The official however said that employers in other industries had to take up health insurance policies for their foreign workers, and that the scheme would be implemented next month.
It was reported that the Federal Government had made it compulsory last June for all employers to buy health insurance protection for each of their foreign workers.
Following the directive, the State Secretary has granted approval for foreign workers in all sectors to be covered under the scheme, starting from last month.
The scheme was introduced as one of the measures to resolve the increasing amount of unpaid hospital bills by foreign workers.
The yearly premium for the health insurance protection is fixed at RM120 per worker for a RM10,000 coverage inclusive of treatment and hospitalisation in government hospitals.
The state government’s exemption decision was believed to have been made following an appeal by the Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (Soppoa), which represents more than 80 plantation owners.
In asking the government to seriously reconsider the implementation of the scheme last month, Soppoa said the scheme would further burden the “very young” oil palm industry in Sarawak, making it even less competitive.
The association had said that its member companies were already mandated to comply with the RM800 minimum monthly wage for plantation workers from this month.
As the market price for crude palm oil has dwindled drastically over the past months, Soppoa said this had hurt especially the young companies that had invested heavily in oil palm cultivation.
With the estimated 84,000 foreign workers employed by the plantation sector in Sarawak, the exemption would mean a savings of more than RM10mil a year for oil palm owners in the state.
The plantation and timber industries are the largest employers of foreign labour. Indonesians made up the bulk of the workforce in oil palm estates, plywood and other timber processing mills in Sarawak.
The official said employers could buy the health insurance policies for their foreign workers from some 25 insurance firms participating in the scheme.
Employers who failed to take up the health insurance scheme would be penalised and their foreign workers’ permits not renewed by the Immigration Department, he added.