KUALA LUMPUR, May 27 — The Ministry of Human Resources said today it would delay enforcing the amendment to a law that would have required employers to improve housing for their workers.

Its minister Datuk M. Saravanan said the delay is meant to give companies more time to prepare.

Parliament’s Lower House passed the amendment to the Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990 in July last year and was gazetted by the Upper House in September. Enforcement would have been scheduled for June 1, 2020.

“The government will allow the delay (of enforcement) for three months until August 31, 2020 to give space to employers to make the necessary preparations,” Saravanan said in a statement.

“Enforcement of Act 446 (Amendment) 2019 will be fully enforced beginning September 1 2020.”

Act 446 (Amendment) would have also covered improved guidelines for foreign worker housing, now seen as the possible source for several clusters of Covid-19 infections among migrant labourers.

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said yesterday the cramped conditions in these lodgings make them hotbeds for an outbreak.

Malaysia is seeing a surge in fresh daily Covid-19 cases in the last few days, the highest being 187 yesterday. Out of the total cases, 173 were migrant workers both documented and the undocumented.

The Act was tabled by the then Pakatan Harapan government as part of its pledge to reform labour laws and empower the country’s poorest workers. 

The Ministry of Human Resources, now under a minister from the Perikatan Nasional coalition, said today it acknowledged that migrant workers have been living in deplorable conditions, often cramped in small and dirty spaces. 

“Migrant workers are among groups most exposed to the Covid-19 outbreak,” Saravanan said.

“This is because so many of them live in very small spaces or cramped conditions in a residential unit that is also very dirty.”

But critics would likely see the housing problem as a legacy of past administrations that Saravanan was a part of.

Rights groups like Tenaganita have alleged that some of the worst treatment of migrant workers was by the then Barisan Nasional government. This included allegations of systemic corruption in the hiring system and negligence of migrant worker welfare.

Today, Saravanan expressed support for improving lodging amenities for foreign workers.

He said the amendment to Act 446 will force employers to comply with health and safety housing standards set by the International Labor Organisation.