KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 19 — The proposed amendment to the Employment Act 1955 prohibits all forms of discrimination at work, the Human Resources Ministry said.
Under the proposed amendment, the Labour director-general may inquire into an employee’s complaint of facing discriminatory treatment from his or her employer in relation to the terms and conditions of employment and issue the employer directives to resolve the matter.
“This proposed new provision on prohibition thus relates to prohibition against any form of discrimination in employment by an employer,” the Human Resources Ministry told Malay Mail.
The ministry, however, did not specify exactly what kind of workplace discrimination would be outlawed.
The UK’s Equality Act 2010, on the other hand, prohibits discrimination by employers, government departments, and education and service providers among others, based on nine characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex, and sexual orientation.
Malaysia’s proposal to amend the labour law came after complaints of several hotels barring front-line female Muslim staff from wearing headscarves.
The Human Resources Ministry told Malay Mail that current provisions in the Act under Section 60 L only disallow any form of discrimination in the workplace between local workers and foreign labourers.
“In regards to the scope of application of the proposed provision, the term 'employer' applies to all under the Act,” said the ministry.
The ministry said it will continue to carry out amendments on labour laws in accordance to the fundamentals of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Declaration 1998 on labour principles and rights, as initially agreed by the Cabinet.
The ministry added that the amendments to the labour laws would also be done on the basis of improving the benefits and welfare of employees, which would indirectly increase the competitiveness and productivity of companies.
At present, the Act provides minimum terms and conditions to employees who earn monthly RM2,000 and below; as well as those employed in manual work, including artisan, apprentice, transport operator, supervisors or overseers of manual workers, persons employed on vessels, and domestic workers, even if they earn more than RM2,000 monthly wages.
However, the director-general, under Section 69(1)(a) may inquire into complaints and decide any dispute between a worker and his employer from employees with a monthly salary of between RM2,000 and RM5,000.
On Saturday, Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Richard Riot Jaem said the proposal to amend the Act was made following a discussion on December 5 last year, which involved ministries as well as related agencies, including the Tourism and Culture Ministry; the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry; the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim); and the Malaysian Employers Federation.
Through inspections and investigations by the Labour Department of Peninsular Malaysia (JTKSM) on 74 four-and-five-star hotels in Pahang, Johor, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya since last November, it was learned that 13 hotels adopted the no-headscarf policy during working hours while the remaining 61 did not set any policy on the matter.
Last August, a survey by women’s rights group Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) found that one in eight pregnant women had lodged formal complaints due to discrimination faced at work.
The “Workplace Discrimination Survey”, which polled 222 women, had found that pregnant women who were dismissed or overlooked for promotions did not speak up as they were not aware of their rights or feared reprisals.
Malay Mail reported last November a recruitment agency as saying that discrimination against job seekers based on age and physical appearance was common too.