Government’s u-turn on workers’ housing law ‘deceitful’

THE move by the Government to relax the enforcement of rules governing workers’ housing standards until the end of the year is most uncalled for as this goes a long way towards eradicating elements of forced labour and human trafficking in labour-intensive industries.

This comes amid calls from employers to be given more time to comply with requirements under the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990 (Act 446) as many companies are still recovering from the pandemic, according to Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan.

Recently, the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) has requested for an additional one to three years more to fulfil the requirements. MEF has argued that companies were given limited time to comply with Act 446 when it was enforced on Sept 1 last year.

“This reported u-turn again, and indeed the continual delaying of the enforcement of Act 446 since 2019 casts doubt on the commitment of the Malaysian government to genuinely addressing the systemic forced  labour situation facing migrant workers in the country,” independent migrant  worker rights specialist Andy Hall told FocusM.

For the record, Hall was recently appointed to sit on the Sime Darby Plantation Bhd’s Expert Stakeholder Human Rights Assessment Commission as a member of the Stakeholder Consultation Panel.

Andy Hall

“The authorities shouldn’t have easily crumbled under pressure from recalcitrant employers linked to those in power.”

At a media conference yesterday (April 23), Saravanan nevertheless stressed that employers must still work towards complying with the law.

“Even though we give them room, they (employers) must start (preparing) from now. Don’t wait until we start enforcing (the law) in December to start building homes (for the workers),” he was cited as saying by the Free Malaysia Today news portal.

Recall that Saravanan has been championing the continuous enforcement of the Act 446 which he deemed as crucial to ensuring efforts to eradicate elements of forced labour and human trafficking.

In fact, effective Sept 1 last year, the enforcement of Act 446 stipulated the need for employers to obtain a certificate of accommodation from the Labour Department of Peninsular Malaysia (JTKSM).

According to Saravanan, the compliance of Act 446 was very important, hence continuous enforcement was necessary to prove that Malaysia adhered to the standards drawn up by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in terms of combating elements of forced labour.

“This matter is very significant to the country since the provision of housing, accommodation and facilities for workers are among the crucial elements in forced labour criteria,” he pointed out in a statement dated Nov 15 last year.

“This aspect of housing and accommodation for workers has been reprimanded by the US Department of Customs and Border Protection, especially involving the rubber glove manufacturing sector and the national oil palm industry.” – April 23, 2021


Photo credit: Pete Pattisson

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