PETALING JAYA: Developers and contractors must give their workers better living conditions, National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said following the R.AGE expose on kongsi quarters.
“It’s clear from the report in The Star that workers are being denied a basic right to decent accommodation,” he said.
Kongsi is the local term for makeshift ghettos in which migrant construction workers live, often in squalid conditions.
In several kongsi, R.AGE journalists found hundreds of people, including women and children, crammed into filthy scrap wood structures.
Fire and disease are constant risks.
“Contractors and developers, when required to provide accommodation, just put something up without any attention to the minimum standard of housing and amenities,” Lee said.
There are currently no laws protecting construction workers.
The Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act only covers workers in the mining and plantation sectors.
The Human Resource Ministry plans to table a Bill in Parliament next year to address construction workers’ housing.
“We welcome this move, and hope the Bill will be expedited,” Lee said.
Many employers still think mainly of keeping costs as low as possible, said Construction Labour Exchange Centre Berhad (CLAB) chief executive officer Abdul Rafik Abdul Rajis.
CLAB provides workers to companies, and also manages centralised labour quarters (CLQs).
These are housing complexes with amenities like dormitories, dining halls and recreational spaces.
Abdul Rafik said it costs an average of RM13mil to construct a complex for 1,000 people, but it only costs about RM180 a month to house a worker in a pre-existing CLQ.
“Unfortunately, demand is low. Contractors still don’t want to house their employees there because they think it’s too expensive,” he said.
“I hope the R.AGE report will encourage employers to house their workers in CLQs,” said Abdul Rafik.
“Everybody deserves a proper place to stay in.”