Firms rush to get workers’ housing up to standard

PETALING JAYA: Companies are scrambling to find and renovate lodgings to properly house migrant workers, say construction and manufacturing groups.

Master Builders Association Malaysia president Foo Chek Lee said construction companies were sourcing houses for foreign workers, with some even making renovations to comply with the latest housing standards.

“Employers are hunting for houses, but it takes time. Even if they can find a place, neighbours may not like it because they worry that foreigners will pose a security risk.

“If companies have to apply for a Certificate of Accommodation, it will take time to get approval from the local council, ” he said.

It is mandatory for employers to obtain the certificate for the workers lodgings provided.

Foo appealed to the government to let companies renovate existing workers’ quarters while they were waiting to get the certificate.

“Some firms don’t have a choice; they have to give money and ask workers to renovate lodgings themselves. Kuala Lumpur is not an easy location to find a place to build new quarters or find a new house to rent, ” he noted.

Small-scale contractors would be hard-pressed should they have to face the RM50,000 fine per worker imposed on those who failed to meet the housing standards, he said.

“A small-time contractor may have about 30 workers, so that will be about RM1mil fine.

“Big companies will most likely have their own quarters. It’s small-time contractors who will face difficulty as workers move from one site to another after a job, ” he said.

Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers president Tan Sri Soh Thian Lai highlighted the time needed for firms to prepare proper accommodation for their workers.

“For instance, if we want to convert a shoplot into a workers hostel, we need time to get approval from local councils and obtain the Certificate of Accommodation.

“Local councils must put forward standard regulations or procedures that they need for us to comply with to obtain the approval, ” he said.

He proposed a 12-month grace period for firms to continue disinfecting existing quarters, while preparing the proper lodgings.

“In the meantime, there are factory owners and investors who can build hostels using prefabricated materials.

“The government should lease some of its land to investors to construct the hostels, ” he added.

Living conditions of migrant workers have been deemed unsafe for years and enforcing proper housing is long overdue, said NGOs.

North South Initiative director Adrian Pereira said foreign workers in Malaysia continue to be short-changed from an economic, social and health perspective.

“I once saw one with 30 people living above shoplots, with only one bathroom and one toilet.

“There are no beds, just a plastic sheet, ” he said, adding that they were forced to cook, sleep and store construction equipment all in the same area with poor ventilation.

He said a multi-sector committee should be formed to help companies who were struggling to manage workers’ lodgings.

“Set up joint monitoring and enforcement, with members from the Labour Department, employers, Malaysian Trades Union Congress and Health Ministry, ” he said.

Tenaganita executive director Glorene Das said it was the responsibility of the authorities and industries to ensure proper housing for migrant workers from the very start.

“This shouldn’t be a concern only when investigations are launched or when the infections increase due to the living and working conditions of the workers.

“The workers are cramped up in a small apartment, up to 15 to 20 of them. The numbers in a unit may be even more if they are doing shift work. There must be political will to improve the welfare of migrant workers, and companies should not put profit before people, ” she urged.

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