Unfit living conditions found at factory quarters where majority contracted Covid-19

Negri Sembilan human resources, plantation and non-Islamic affairs committee chairman J. Arul Kumar with the guidelines issued by the state government to complement the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990.

SEREMBAN: Housing for the factory with 85% of its 1,302 foreign workers testing positive for Covid-19 has been found to be unfit for human habitation.

Negri Sembilan human resources, plantation and non-Islamic affairs committee chairman J. Arul Kumar said a preliminary probe also found that the management had failed to get the approval of the Labour Department to house its workers there.

"Officers from the department visited the premises on Feb 9 and found that the living quarters lacked basic facilities, which is an offence under the law.

"Three investigation papers have been opened and we will forward our findings to the relevant authorities soon," he told reporters at his office.

Almost 85% of the company's 375 local workers were also infected. The first case was reported on Feb 18.

Under the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990 which took effect on Sept 1 last year, employers who fail to provide proper living conditions for their foreign workers are liable to be charged for breaches of the Act and can be fined up to RM50,000 for each offence.

But under the Emergency Ordinance (Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities) 2021 gazetted on Feb 17, stiffer penalties have been put in place.

The Ordinance empowers the director-general of the Labour Department to order owners of worker accommodations to replace, change or upgrade the facilities should they be found not to meet criteria under the Act.

Owners who fail to comply with the order can be fined up to RM200,000 or jailed up to three years or both.

Arul Kumar said the department was also probing 10 other employers for similar offences.

"It is regrettable that some employers are taking this lightly although the state government issued a set of guidelines last month to make it easier for them to house their workers," he said.

Arul Kumar said the state exco had passed a ruling to allow these workers to be housed at shophouses provided that only four workers were housed in a 16sq m area.

"We decided to allow this as there were many vacant shoplots.

"So, as long as the employers get approval from the local councils, they can move their workers into these units," he said.

Arul Kumar said workers may also be housed at terrace and semi-detached houses, flats, town and kampung houses and any building which has been renovated as long as each worker had at least 3.6sq m of space and other basic amenities such as a kitchen, toilets, rest area and proper ventilation.

He said the state government was also in talks with developers with many vacant units to allow employers to rent them.

Citing an example, he said only five of 540 units in a development in Mantin near here were occupied and the vacant ones could be rented out to employers.

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