Workers’ housing woes: Not easy to comply with Act 446, says MEF

IT is not that easy for employers to comply with the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990 (Act 446) due to short time period given and confusion on its certification process.

“The law was gazette on Aug 30 and we told comply by Sept 1. However, the grace period was extended to November.

“So, we have only about three months to make changes on migrant workers’ accommodation. Is there enough time for us? Those things take time,” Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Barddan told FocusM.

On Nov 26, the Department of Labour Peninsular Malaysia (JTKSM) was reported to have found Top Glove Corp Bhd manufacturing company in Ipoh to be in violation of the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990 (Act 446) during an operation.

“Among the offences were the company’s failure to obtain an ‘accommodation acknowledgment letter’ from our department, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions,” JTKSM standards director Mohd Asri Abdul Wahab was reported saying.

Later, Senior Minister (Security) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced that the Government would extend the enhanced movement control order (EMCO) imposed on Top Glove’s workers’ hostel in Meru, Klang until Dec 14 after a COVID-19 outbreak was detected there.

Red tapes, stigma

Shamsuddin said there were a lot of costs involved when changing migrant workers’ accommodation as the new law requires it to be double the current size.

“If we were to build our own hostels for migrant workers, it will may take two to three years. So, we have no choice but to get accommodation from existing premises such as houses, apartments and others,” he said.

Adding to the problem, Shamsuddin noted that there was the stigma attached to migrant workers which prevent premise owners to rent to them.

“To get accommodation for migrant workers, we need to get consent from the community living at the area.

“And our people have this stigma against migrant workers. Now, our locals even look at migrant workers as COVID-19 virus carriers,” he lamented.

Shamsuddin added that getting certification from the Labour Department on the accommodation for migrant workers was not as easy it sounds.

“There are a few processes involved, including getting certain approvals from the local councils. It’s not like we can get the certification on time as it involves a few agencies,” he said.

Touching on Top Glove, Shamsuddin said that the glove maker should be given credit for trying its best to comply with local and international laws despite hiccups.

“Let’s be fair to them. They have spent millions trying to abide by local and international laws. They are also paying up whatever debts their workers’ may have incurred to get here.

“Of course, there is much to be done by Top Glove but they have been very responsive,” he said.

Tough balancing act

On related matter, Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM) said that there are two perspective to the matter at hand, one of which is the workers’ welfare and high-costs borne by employers during a tough economic situation.

“As employer, we must provide reasonable accommodation to our employees – both local and foreign – as stipulated by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

“On the other hand, providing better housing will increase cost of doing business, especially for the small and medium enterprises (SME),” said its national council member and SME chairman Koong Lin Loong.

Adding that it is the responsibility of the employers to take care of its staff, he said it was particularly hard for businesses to comply with Act 446 amid the current tough economic climate.

“Besides, the time frame given to employers is too short. A lot of businesses now are having tight cash flow and for them, maintaining operations supersedes accommodation issues.

“Plus, it’s not only about setting up accommodation for workers. You need to prepare other things like kitchen appliances, electrical items and others,” Koong added. – Dec 3, 2020

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