SINGAPORE: Employers are responsible for their migrant domestic workers' medical bills in Singapore but they can get help if they face financial difficulties, Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said in Parliament on Tuesday (Jul 27).
Mr Zaqy was responding to a parliamentary question from Member of Parliament Tin Pei Ling (PAP-MacPherson) on the extent to which an employer is responsible for a migrant domestic worker's medical fee in Singapore if the treatment needed is due to the worker's social activities during her time-off and the medical fee quantum far exceeds insurance limits.
Ms Tin clarified in Parliament that she had filed the question because of a query from an elderly resident in her ward who had to pay a medical bill of "five figures" after her maid contracted sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Employers are responsible for the medical costs even if the migrant domestic worker's illnesses and/or accidents are not work-related.
"The MDW was diagnosed with several STDs and and it was discovered only on her way to the airport to take a flight back home. And so the work permit at that point would have been terminated," said Ms Tin. "And nobody knew until she detoured to see a doctor."
Ms Tin added that in most cases, even in the case of accidents and illnesses that are not work-related, the requirement is reasonable.
But she asked in a supplementary question: "In this case, it seemed to be an excessive burden on the employer. To be fair, MOM (Ministry of Manpower) and the hospital did try to come in to provide assistance.
"But my question is: Is it equitable in such instances, albeit rare, for the employer to take up such responsibility? Should the responsibility therefore be shared by the MDW?"
Mr Zaqy said that it is more reasonable to make employers liable for the workers' medical bills than to "externalise" them, such as imposing them on taxpayers.
“When we employ a migrant domestic worker, one thing that we have to note is that we are not just hiring an employee, we also hiring a person, a human. So there is a benefit that we get from the work, there is also the risk of discretion, just like any humans, so just like us," he said.
He said that employers are required to get medical insurance plans of at least S$15,000 a year to pay for inpatient care and day surgery for their maids.
This is sufficient to cover about 95 per cent of hospital bills incurred by MDWs, said Mr Zaqy.
"Beyond the mandated coverage, employers can opt for higher coverage from their insurers to better protect themselves against large bills," he said.
He added that MOM is reviewing the minimum insurance coverage amount.
In the meantime, employers who face financial difficulties in paying for their MDWs’ medical bills can get help from medical social workers at the hospitals. MOM has also stepped in to help when employers face genuine financial difficulty, he said.
"What we are trying to do is to make sure that the worker is not denied appropriate treatment, despite the fact that the employer may not be able to afford the full medical bill," said Mr Zaqy.