It has been reported that some 91.1% or 1.4 million foreign workers in the country are provided with accommodation that does not comply with provisions in the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990 (Act 446).
This came to light when glove manufacturing industries were inspected nationwide, due to the high Covid-19 infection rate among its foreign workers.
As Malaysia is the World’s top rubber glove supplier, the industry employs thousands of workers, both foreign and local. Currently, the industry employs 71,800 workers, of which 28,000 are locals and 43,800 are foreign workers. The glove manufacturers should use their windfall profit to immediately improve the housing standards of workers.
Comprehensive reforms needed in foreign workers
Issues related to workers standards of housing in its current form cannot be resolved merely by periodic inspection of dormitories. It requires a structural and holistic reform to reign in the indiscriminate powers of the Home Ministry to approve foreign workers without proper checks and balances. These are contributing factors to poor standards of accommodation since unqualified employers might have been given access to foreign workers.
There is a need to conduct a holistic review of poor human resources management, corruption and deceptive recruitment practices that leads to poor conditions of safety and health at foreign workers’ dormitories.
This study should be the basis for comprehensive reforms that can prevent abuses.
Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who is also chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Foreign Workers, had said that a Certificate of Accommodation from Ministry Of Human Resources will be a prerequisite for employers who intend to hire new foreign workers effective July 1 this year. However, this doesn’t address the fundamental nature of decision-making that obliterates the need for transparency and accountability in the management of foreign workers.
Workers Housing should comply with international decent standards
As more mistreatment of foreign workers are reported in terms of not meeting minimum standards of housing and amenities, it is vital that the PN government act to ensure that Malaysia labour standards are in line with Article 8 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution on equality, and ILO convention R115 on workers’ housing recommendations.
According to ILO recommendations: It should be an objective of national policy to promote, within the framework of general housing policy, the construction of housing and related community facilities with a view to ensuring that adequate and decent housing accommodation and a suitable living environment are made available to all workers and their families.
A degree of priority should be accorded to those whose needs are most urgent. Attention should also be given to the upkeep, improvement and modernisation of existing housing and related community facilities.
Poor standard of accommodation was one of the 11 indicators of forced labour defined by the ILO since Housing amenities among certain industries are provided on sole discretion of the employer without consultation and respect for workers’ rights to minimum standards of housing and amenities.
Therefore, comprehensive structural reforms in line with the recommendations of the Independent Committee of Foreign Workers Management is vital to address fundamental issues on minimum standards of Housing and amenities for foreign workers.
M Kula Segaran on behalf of the DAP Task Force on Jobs and Labour Policy
4th February 2021