State govt should take ownership of Sabah Labour Ordinance changes, say local business owners

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah businesses feel they are being hung out to dry over proposed amendments to the Sabah Labour Ordinance (SLO), claiming the changes will be bad for them if passed in Parliament.

A coalition of associations from various sectors said there has not been sufficient engagement with the Sabah government to collect their feedback on the amendments, which could be tabled in the Dewan Rakyat meeting that begins next week.

Their spokesman Yap Cheen Boon said the proposed SLO amendments were similar to the Employment Act 1955 implemented in the peninsula which does not suit Sabah's unique circumstances.

Yap, who is also Sabah Employers Association president, said the state government should take the lead in any changes to the SLO to ensure a level playing field.

“We request the state government to put a halt (to the proposed amendments),” he told a press conference here on Wednesday (June 19).

“For any law to be passed, the procedure should be that the Sabah government must first engage the stakeholders and get their feedback, (and only then) make adjustments to the law.

“We see this (part of the) process lacking. The best thing to do is put this exercise on hold, do the consultation and then work out the best way forward,” he added.

Others at the press conference were representatives from the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (Sabah branch); Sabah Entrepreneurs Transformation; Kota Kinabalu Hardware, Machinery & Building Materials Traders Association; Sabah Timber Industry Association; Timber Association Sabah; and the Federation of Sabah Industries.

Yap said the only engagement with industry and business representatives in the state over the SLO amendments was back in 2019.

He said that during the federal Human Resources Ministry’s Workers Day celebration in May this year, it was made known that the state Cabinet had approved the SLO amendments together with the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities (Amendment) Act 2019 (Act 446) included.

He said this was followed by a meeting with the Labour Department last month to discuss technical details on housing laws within the SLO amendments.

“We were told to get ready for impending Parliament approval.

“We are disturbed by the legislative procedure that seems to have taken the prerogative out of Sabah and into the Federal Government’s hands, with state government involvement absent throughout the whole process,” Yap said.

He said Sabah business owners were of the view that incorporating housing legislation into the SLO amendments would pose serious cost and compliance challenges, and they also questioned the Federal Government’s capacity to implement the rules in the state.

“The government is already facing many issues in the peninsula even when labour and housing laws were passed and implemented separately there.

“(If the proposed SLO amendments are passed) we can foresee businesses struggling further in a weakened economy.

“We might have more closures or a higher unemployment rate in the state,” Yap said.

He added it was also baffling that the SLO amendments which affect both businesses and workers within the state were to be put up for parliamentary approval instead of at the Sabah State Legislative Assembly.

“We urge the state government not to remain silent and passive but reclaim the prerogative and exercise ownership of the SLO.

“Initiate consultation with all stakeholders, finalise the technicalities and imbue the laws with the Sabah context,” he said.

The SLO amendments were to be tabled in Parliament in November but postponed to March.

However, the Bill was not tabled at the last meeting.

Former deputy human resources minister Datuk Mustapha Sakmud said the Bill was postponed as it was being reviewed by the Attorney General.

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