PETALING JAYA: A human rights group and an MP have alleged that the government has caved in to pressure from businesses with its decision to relax enforcement of the law specifying workers’ housing standards.
Tenaganita executive director Glorene Das said it was apparent that workers had become “tools of profit”, and Klang MP Charles Santiago said Putrajaya was showing it lacked seriousness in preventing the development of Covid-19 clusters at workplaces.
Parliament passed amendments to the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act (Act 446) in July 2019. It mandates a minimum space requirement for workers’ accommodation, basic facilities and safety and hygiene standards.
However, employers and business groups have regularly voiced their resistance to the Act’s enforcement, saying many companies were still recovering from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and needed time to comply with the law.
Enforcement kicked off last September and several companies have since been charged in court, but human resources minister M Saravanan said yesterday the law would not be fully enforced until the beginning of next year to give some room to employers.
Das told FMT: “It goes to show that workers are not a priority. If employers can’t even comply with the minimum standards, it clearly shows that workers’ needs are not important.
“Between economic benefits and human rights, workers become tools of profit. It’s always profit before people, especially with so much pressure from corporations.
“At the end of the day, these corporations pay a certain amount of tax to the government, and the government depends on this.”
The Act was supposed to be enforced last June, but the human resources ministry gave employers a grace period until Sept 1 and later said it would take an educational approach until the end of 2020.
After a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases linked to factory workers living in dormitories late last year, senior minister for security Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the human resources ministry would start enforcing the act on Nov 26, 2020, after which several companies were charged in court with non-compliance.
Fines for not complying with the Act can go up to RM50,000. Under the Emergency Ordinance, the ministry can slap errant employers with a RM200,000 fine. They could also be jailed for up to three years or punished with both a fine and a jail term.
There have been many strongly worded statements from the government about the importance of enforcing Act 446. Just last month, Saravanan said it would help redeem Malaysia’s image in foreign worker management.
Santiago said yesterday’s relaxation went against the wish to redeem Malaysia’s image and proved the government was not serious about preventing workplace clusters.
“The government is essentially shooting itself in the foot. It shows it has no game plan and is completely muzzled by businesses,” he said.
He said Putrajaya should take a leaf out of Singapore’s book. “The government there says something and businesses listen. Here, it’s the opposite. It’s because our government is weak.”