AS a retired Human Resources Ministry official, it is horrifying for me to read news about industrial accidents, especially those that involve fatalities.
The recent Sungai Kim Kim pollution incident is not just a blatant disregard for environmental laws but also points to poor enforcement of workplace safety.
When I was in service, one of the proposals to beef up enforcement involving the Human Resources Ministry was to merge and privatise it. But this proposal was shot down many times by those who have vested interests, including key officials in the ministry.
Right now, different agencies under the ministry have their own enforcement unit. For example, the Labour Department acts against employers who do not pay salaries on time. The Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) goes after companies who fail to meet minimum health and safety standards at the workplace. The list goes on.
This present arrangement has resulted in an environment where agencies work in silos. For example, a DOSH official on his rounds in factories will not act against employers hiring illegal workers even if he stumbles upon them.
His jurisdiction is confined only to workplace health and safety, not workers without permits. And by the time he informs the relevant authorities about this, the illegal worker would have gone into hiding.
This creates inefficiency and is more costly. Under the proposed unified enforcement unit, one person can take over the jobs of multiple staff from different agencies.
The current arrangement also creates room for enforcement
officials to build “relationships” with parties which they are supposed to oversee. As we know, “familiarity breeds contempt”, if not outright corruption.
This is why a unified and privatised enforcement team can help plug the existing loopholes in the system. For a fee to government coffers, companies can bid for licences to carry out such enforcement. Since private corporations are profit-driven, they would have more incentives to ensure not just tight enforcement but also optimum use of manpower. Companies found to have slacked or engaged in dubious activities could have their licences revoked.
Privatisation of enforcement is not new. In Malaysia, vehicle inspection, previously undertaken by the Road Transport Department, is now done by Puspakom, a private company.
But unlike Puspakom, enforcement of laws pertaining to labour and human resources should not be monopolised by one company but should be opened up to enable competition, which will bring about efficiency.
Singapore, a country known for top-notch efficiency, has also privatised some of its enforcement. For example, there are five commercial auxiliary police forces authorised to provide armed security to government organisations. Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) has also authorised multiple companies to conduct vehicle inspections.
Additionally, privatising enforcement responsibilities is also in line with the government’s aspirations to trim the civil service. As we can see, there’s plenty of potential the government and public can derive from having a merged and privatised enforcement. In the spirit of new Malaysia, I appeal to Human Resources Minister M. Kula Segaran to seriously consider this long-overdue proposal.