PETALING JAYA: Laws allowing 104 hours of overtime per month must be amended as this is making Malaysia party to propagating forced labour, say rights groups.
A collective statement undersigned by 20 groups, organisations and trade unions said the Employment (Limitation of Overtime Work) Regulations 1980 must be amended to ensure that working hours with overtime, work on rest days and public holidays shall not exceed 56 per week on average.
This is in line with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention, which states that workers should work not more than eight hours per day or not more than 48 hours a week, but in cases where the nature of the production process requires a continuous succession of shifts, a 56-hour weekly maximum limit on average may be applied.
"In Malaysia, overtime is not limited to exceptional situations but sometimes becomes the norm.
"Even though Malaysia has reduced weekly working hours from 48 to 45 beginning January 2023, it is useless if the legal overtime limit remains 104 hours a month," read the statement on Tuesday (Sept 26).
Excessive overtime is among the 11 indicators of forced labour classified by the ILO, which also include abuse of vulnerability; deception; restriction of movement; isolation; physical and sexual violence; intimidation and threats; retention of identity documents; withholding of wages; abusive working and living conditions; and debt bondage
Meanwhile, the groups also called for the government to abolish compounds for forced labour and workers' rights violations and ensure that human decision makers such as company directors and managers are charged, tried and convicted.
"Fines and compounds alone do not justice to victims of forced labour.
"A company is a mindless shell, and thus merely giving fines or receiving compounds from companies – but not directors, managers or other similar officers – enables the real criminals to escape.
"All employers, directors and officers that commit forced labour or other labour offences must be charged in court, where it will be clear from the charges what offences were committed.
"Failure to prosecute will not deter these human perpetrators from repeating crimes of forced labour," said the groups.
They said that there must be a transparent disclosure of all perpetrators of forced labour and that there must be a deterrent punishment compelling employers to pay at least five times the amount of monies wrongly withheld from workers.
The groups said current law only requires employers make any payment due to the employee in relation to that offence, not even with interest.
The groups also called for the government to ensure that victims of labour offences are justly compensated, as Human Resources Minister V. Sivakumar said that 272 employers have been issued compound notices totalling RM2.17mil and 128 employers fined by the court to the tune of RM242,000 since January this year.
"Fines and compound payments go to the government, not to the affected worker victims of forced labour.
"Most victimised workers are poor and lack capacity, and simply choose not to pursue justice, hence allowing perpetrators of forced labour to get away with it," said the groups.
They pointed out that compensation for the victims could be dealt with in the same court proceedings.
This is as the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) states that after the perpetrator has been convicted, Section 426(1A) provides that the Court can order the convicted to pay "compensation to a person who is the victim of the offence committed by the convicted accused in respect of the injury to his person or character, or loss of his income or property, as a result of the offence committed."
"A similar provision can easily be inserted in the Employment Act 1955 and other labour laws so adequate and just compensation can also be awarded to victims of forced labour and other worker rights violation in the same proceedings, without requiring victims themselves to go after the convicted perpetrators alone to get justice," said the groups.
The groups added that a National Action Plan on Forced Labour (NAPFL) 2021-2025 or having Guidelines on Preventing and Eradicating Forced Labour Practices in the Workplace is not enough without indiscriminatory prosecution of all guilty of forced labour offences, and ensuring justice for all worker victims.
This is in reference to the NAPFL launched in November 2021 and the Guidelines which were rolled out on Sept 14 this year.
The undersigned includes non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as ALIRAN, WH4C (Worker Hub For Change), Madpet (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture), North South Initiative (NSI) and Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor as well as international groups such as Taiwan's Serve the People Association, Spain's Setem Catalunya and the United States' Women of Color/Global Women's Strike.