Sustainable Reopening of Johor-Singapore Borders

Media statement by Liew Chin Tong, DAP Johor Chairman on Tuesday, 16 March 2021.

The concerns expressed by Datuk Ir. Hasni Mohammad, Menteri Besar (MB) of Johor and Khairy Jamaluddin, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, over the plight of Malaysians working in Singapore are commendable. These workers’ livelihoods are tied closely to their ability to commute daily between Malaysia and Singapore.

It is heartening to see the prospect of border restrictions being lifted between these two countries following the inoculation of about 100,000 Malaysians working in Singapore under phase two of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme.

However, we need to bear in mind that the Johor-Singapore border issue is not just a state to country (Johor – Singapore) matter. It is a larger matter between two countries (Malaysia – Singapore). As such, the issue cannot be resolved solely by the Johor state government.

Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is also a Johor Member of Parliament (MP), must make the reopening of the borders an important foreign policy agenda.

This bilateral engagement is important to prepare us for any eventualities. Travel between the two countries could still be restricted even when these Malaysian workers are vaccinated. Singapore is likely to impose quarantine measures for incoming travellers as a precaution since experts are still gathering evidence to confirm if vaccinations will completely stop the transmission of the virus. So far, the most concrete evidence only showed that vaccinations provided a person immunity or protected a person from the worst outcomes associated with the virus.

Thinking ahead, the issue of quarantine costs must be addressed effectively in order to sustainably facilitate the movement of workers between these two countries. The Johor Menteri Besar has mentioned that around 400,000 Malaysians work in Singapore every day, of which mostly work in blue-collar jobs in the manufacturing and service sector.

The earlier arrangements with Singapore – Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) and Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) schemes – involved mostly professional workers who can afford to conduct tests and self-quarantine in Singapore and Malaysia. These costs were borne by the companies or workers themselves.

If the Johor Menteri Besar and the Malaysian government are serious in addressing this issue especially for those working in the more manual and low wage sectors in Singapore, they could:

  • Subsidise the costs of quarantining in Malaysia and provide some sort of grant for workers to stay in Singapore, or alternatively;
  • Work with the Singapore government to partly subsidise the cost of quarantine for Malaysian B40 workers. This cost can be borne by the Singapore government or the companies employing them. After all, these Malaysian workers are providing valuable services to the citizens and the government of Singapore.

Reopening the Johor – Singapore borders sustainably requires the effort of parties at various levels.  DAP Johor is ready to discuss the formulation of detailed policy proposals with Wisma Putra and the Johor state government to help ordinary Malaysian workers whose livelihood depends on their cross-border jobs, especially those in the manual and low wage sectors.

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