Bosses in a dilemma


Tough issue: A rundown foreign workers’ kongsi of a construction development in Kuala Lumpur city centre. — YAP CHEE HONG/The Star

PETALING JAYA: Employers are doing all they can to comply with the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990 or Act 446 but space restrictions, converting current land designation and differing local government regulations are proving to be a hurdle.

Real Estate and Housing Developers Association Malaysia president Datuk Soam Heng Choon said many contractors and developers had been making efforts to comply with the minimum housing standards since the law was enacted.

He said, however, that certain sites and locations were not conducive to meet the law’s requirements.

“If projects are ongoing and space at the sites is restricted, it will not be easy to do things overnight. Thus, there is the need for more time, ” he said.

Soam said the plea for more time to comply was also due to “cost pressure” on the industry stemming from the need to comply with the Covid-19 standard operating procedure.

National Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia secretary-general Datuk Low Kian Chuan said regulations to convert existing land designation into residential land presented another obstacle.

“For example, in the agriculture sector, employers want to build a hostel to house their foreign workers but are unable to do so because the land use is for agricultural purposes, not residential use.

“They want to comply but the law won’t allow them as they will need to convert the land and this takes time, ” he said.

Besides that, Low said compliance was also a challenge due to differing local government regulations.

“Certain local governments allow factories to set up their own hostels but you have others that do not allow it, so there are discrepancies here.

“Then you have shoplots that cannot be converted into hostels for foreign workers. This is an issue that cannot immediately be resolved.

“It is not an issue on the employer’s side but on the authorities’ side, ” he said.

Malaysian Furniture Council secretary-general Matthew Law concurred, saying the local government’s differing requirements and time-consuming regulations in getting a Certificate of Fitness for Occupation (CFO) for a dormitory proved to be a hindrance.

“The problem is that different states have different requirements. In some states you are allowed to have the hostel within the property, but in other areas the hostels have to be outside the main property.

“You also have issues where if you want to build a hostel, acquiring a CFO takes a long time. For a normal factory, we have to go through six different departments to obtain it. With the deadline given by the government, do you think it is possible to comply?” he asked.

Law said the industry was already in dire straits with increasing material costs, labour shortage, and difficulty in sourcing containers to ship products overseas.

“All these issues are happening at the same time. We need a clear and proper direction for businesses, ” he said.

He suggested that for dormitories, the government could look at certain areas to be designated for housing the manufacturing sector.

The amendments to Act 446 came into force on June 1 last year, mandating a minimum space requirement for workers’ accommodation, basic facilities as well as safety and hygiene standards.

Employers were given a grace period until Aug 31,2020, to comply, with the enforcement taking effect from Sept 1 last year.

On Friday, Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan said employers in several sectors would be given some time to comply with the law to provide suitable housing for their foreign workers, though he did not mention which sectors would be given the extension.

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