Saturday, 26 Sep 2020

Malaysia employers plead for time to provide standard accommodations for foreign workers

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Malaysian employers are pleading with the government for more time to fulfil new regulations to provide their foreign workers with standard accommodations amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The regulations on the accommodations are very specific, and were published in a government gazette on Aug 28.

The Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990 took effect on Sept 1.

In an unprecedented move, the Malaysian government in March announced that employers must provide accommodation for all their workers in all sectors under Act.

The regulations require employers and centralised accommodation providers to provide every worker a single bed measuring not less than 1.7 sq m.

If a double-decker bed is provided, the space between two beds shall not be less than 0.7 sq m.

Employers should also provide a mattress of at least 10cm thick, a pillow and a blanket.

Each worker must have access to a cupboard with a lock, with the cupboard measuring a minimum 35cm long, 35cm wide, 90cm high.

Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Shamsuddin Bardan said that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, more time was needed to comply with the regulations.

“We need at least one year for the government to guide employers. They should not put pressure on us during this trying period,” he said.

Mr Shamsuddin said specific regulations such as providing thick mattresses and specific sized cupboards “will take time”.

Malaysia has 2.2 million registered foreign workers who are mostly blue-collar workers, and more than two million more who work in the country illegally.

Only some of the registered migrant workers are given housing by their employers, including in rented shoplots and temporary quarters on construction sites.

The rest are left to fend for themselves, with many sharing cramped rented quarters.

Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers president Soh Thian Lai has said that the RM50,000 (S$16,450) fine for each offence was too drastic due to the weakened economy.

He said the government’s plan would severely hamper business revival initiatives of most industries.

Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association president Jawahar Ali Taib Khan said the group met Human Resources Minister M. Saravanan recently to discuss labour issues and the new law was also brought up.

“It is my view that this is not the right time to enforce the Act, as the economy is badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic… We are just beginning to breathe,” he said.

Malaysia is regarded as having the pandemic under control.

On Sunday (Sept 6), the country reported six new cases to bring the total infections to 9,397 cases. The total number of deaths from Covid-19 stood at 128.

The Malaysian economy in the second quarter shrunk by the most since the 1998 Asian economic crisis.

In July, Mr Saravanan said nearly 65,000 workers lost their jobs this year.

Malaysia has sent home thousands of foreign workers in the last few months.

The government has also promised to help Malaysians who have lost their jobs, including by offering them jobs in sectors previously occupied by migrants such as stall assistants at wet markets and in restaurants – work mostly shunned by locals.

Responding to the plea by employers for delay in implementing the improved worker accommodations, secretary-general of the Malaysian Trade Union Congress J. Solomon said these are “weak excuses”.

“This is another effort to push the government to give priority to employer profits, rather than ensuring workers have basic accommodations,” he said, as quoted by Free Malaysia Today news site.

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