KUALA LUMPUR, May 28 — The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) has vehemently objected to the government’s move to give employers three more months to comply with new laws requiring them to improve housing for their workers.
MTUC secretary-general J. Solomon said employers have had ample time to comply even before the Covid-19 pandemic struck Malaysia, pointing out that the amendments were approved in September 2019.
Parliament’s Lower House passed the amendment to the Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990 in July last year, which was endorsed by the Senate in September.
Enforcement had been scheduled for June 1, 2020.
“We simply cannot fathom why Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan would grant employers the grace period, especially when many Covid-19 cases currently reported involve migrant workers, not just those at immigration detention centres, but also the ones living at construction sites.
“It is totally irresponsible for the minister to expect Malaysians to continue living with the risk of foreign workers dormitories becoming new clusters of Covid-19 simply because he thinks that employers need more time to comply with laws that were passed ten months ago,” he said in a statement here.
Saravanan said yesterday the government will delay enforcement for three months until August 31 to give employers time to make the necessary preparations.
Solomon then suggested Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin immediately intervene and ensure the enforcement of the Act on June 1 as scheduled, stating that failure to do so will be seen as a glaring weakness on the government’s part to contain Covid-19 and a mere ploy to pander to the whims of unscrupulous employers.
He further explained that the amendments to the Act were meant to put an end to foreign workers living in cramped, grimy and squatter-like conditions either at ‘kongsi’ on project sites, three room-terrace houses or apartments and shop lots.
These accommodations, Solomon said, often housed as many as 20 people bundled into a single home in unsanitary conditions and lacking in basic amenities.
“This is exploitation of the highest order as migrants build some of the world’s finest apartment buildings in Malaysia, yet they themselves live in the most horrible conditions, often right next to the construction sites.
“Saravanan’s statement yesterday was made on the same day the Health Ministry said that short and long term solutions must be found to prevent foreign worker’s dwellings from becoming clusters of Covid-19 outbreaks and other virus-related diseases,” he said.
In recent days, Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the cramped conditions in these lodgings make them hotbeds for an outbreak.
The MTUC previously called on relevant authorities to investigate workplaces and foreign workers’ dormitories nationwide after receiving reports of cramped living conditions which did not meet the standard housing accommodation permissible under the law.
Solomon said MTUC was initially pleased when Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob had announced earlier this week on the standard operating procedure (SOP) for foreign workers accommodation to curb the spread of infection, but was subsequently taken aback when Saravanan failed to announce the promised SOP and put the enforcement of the Act on hold.
“It showed albeit briefly that the government recognised the poor living conditions of foreign workers as a potential risk becoming Covid-19 clusters, as what happened in Singapore.
“However, much to our dismay, Saravanan not only failed to announce the promised SOP, but he also put on hold the enforcement of laws to directly improve the living conditions of foreign workers in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. This is clearly not right,” he said.
He then accused Saravanan of shielding employers from being penalised for not providing their workers with decent living conditions which clearly carries a risk to public safety due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We also ask why is the Human Resources Ministry helping in prolonging the risk factors of Covid-19 outbreaks in the country while at the same time when the Health Ministry and its frontline heroes are sacrificing beyond the call of duty to save us from this killer disease.
“Therefore, the Minister’s decision is disastrous and endangers the entire nation of being exposed to the deadly virus,” he said.