We need more time, say employers

Compulsory changes: All sectors will have to adhere to the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990 that addresses the living conditions of migrant workers in the midst of the Covid-19 ­pandemic. — MUHAMAD SHAHRIL ROSLI/The Star

PETALING JAYA: It has been over a week since a new law on worker accommodation came into force, but industries are asking for up to a one-year extension to meet the fresh requirements.

Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan said that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, more time was needed to comply with the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990 which took effect on Sept 1.

He said the new regulations that provide specific requirements for employers to comply with were only published on Aug 28, less than a week before the amended law came into force.

“We need at least one year for the government to guide employers. They should not put pressure on us during this trying period, ” he said.

In March, the government announced that employers must provide accommodation for all their workers in all sectors under the Act.

The new regulations, among others, require employers and centralised accommodation providers to provide every worker staying in the provided accommodation a single bed measuring not less than 1.7sq m.

If a double-decker bed is provided, the space between two beds shall not be less than 0.7sq m.

Employers should also provide a mattress of at least four inches thick, a pillow and a blanket and a cupboard with lock (measuring a minimum 0.35m-long, 0.35m-wide, 0.9m-high).

Employers were given three months from June 1 to make arrangements and provide proper accommodation according to guidelines for foreign workers in all sectors.

Shamsuddin said specific regulations such as providing thick mattresses and specific sized cupboards “will take time”.

“There is no need to insist on new requirements as long as we provide a conducive environment and comply with the current SOP, ” he said.

“If one had bought a new mattress for an employee a few weeks ago and it is only 3.5 inches thick, does that mean you are not complying with these new regulations.

“Are we expected to change to a new one? If we look at all the specific details, we deserve more time.”

The call of the MEF, which represents the country’s largest employers’ group, follows the appeal made by the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) for a one-year extension.

FMM president Tan Sri Soh Thian Lai had said that the RM50,000 fine for each offence was too drastic due to the weakened economy, adding that this would severely hamper business revival initiatives of most industries.

Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma) president Datuk Jawahar Ali Taib Khan said the body met Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan recently to discuss labour issues and the new law was also brought up.

“It is my view that this is not the right time to enforce the Act as the economy is badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic... we are just beginning to breathe.

“The cost of operating a restaurant has increased as we have to spend extra cash to buy disinfectants, cleaning detergents and conduct regular sanitation to keep the premises clean, ” he said.

Jawahar said the government had also introduced new restrictions on the operating hours of mamak restaurants and this had led to reduced profits.

“Having to provide extra housing perks means extra expenses. I am afraid many cannot afford to follow or provide extra facilities because everything involves cost, ” said Jawahar, adding that the government should postpone the implementation of the law for another year or until the economy improved.

Bina Puri Holdings Bhd group executive director Datuk Matthew Tee said the law had noble intentions but the implementation was not being done at the right time.

“All these measures will result in increased costs, and squeeze margins which are already low and eroded by unaccounted costs caused by the pandemic, ” said Tee, who is the former president of the International Federation of Asian and Western Pacific Contractors’ Association.

Saravanan could not be reached for comment.

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