THE government has given employers three months to provide proper accommodation and living conditions for migrant workers in all sectors, as provided for under amendments passed by Parliament in July last year to the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act, 1990 (“Housing boost for workers”, The Star, May 28; online at bit.ly/star_housing).
Enforcement of Act 446 was scheduled for June 1 but has now been put off to Sept 1 to give employers time to make the necessary preparations. The urgency to enforce the Act now has been highlighted by the need to flatten the curve of Covid-19 infections as quickly and as effectively as possible.
Among others, the Act stipulates minimum standards for workers’ living quarters. Currently, most foreign workers are crowded into single housing units that also lack basic amenities.
Employers have, in principle, welcomed the new provisions but are asking for a grace period of six months to comply. Also, the Malaysian Employers Federation points out that some employers have financial constraints to deal with now.
However, the Malaysian Trades Union Congress and some NGOs want the authorities to act firmly on the matter now. While the employers’ (who are mainly construction companies) concerns are legitimate, workers’ safety and health are also important and must not be compromised, more so because of Covid-19 and the prevention of its spread.
But in this seeming divergence of views there must be a middle path where everyone gives in a little and everyone gains a little. The way to find that win-win solution is for all parties concerned to sit down together and find common ground to resolve this issue in the interest of all of their interests.
It is in the employers’ long-term interest to see the end, as quickly as possible, of the movement control order that has been imposed to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Any resurgence of cases will severely disrupt construction activity again, leading to more losses and penalties for employers.
And the employers will be rewarded with greater productivity from workers if they are taken care of and their living conditions are improved.
In addition to ensuring minimum standards of housing and basic amenities for foreign workers, what is also essential is for these workers to be educated on how to be hygienic and comply with SOPs (standard operating procedures) at worksites, especially with regard to physical distancing and wearing facemasks.
The continued existence of Covid-19 threatens not only employers’ interests and workers’ safety and health, it also affects the health of the ordinary man-in-the-street.
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