Pua Yew Boon, Lim Cui Wen & Quek ShuXin Published Modified 19 Apr 2021, 9:11 am

Issues plaguing foreign workers in the country have been hogging the limelight recently revealing a sordid state of affairs from huge payments to unscrupulous agents and false promises of jobs to unacceptable living conditions provided by some employers.

Matters were further compounded when several Malaysian rubber glove manufacturers had their products barred from major Western markets pending the clearing of allegations that they had utilised forced foreign labour.

Human Resources Minister M Saravanan recently responded in an email interview with Kiniacademy, addressing the issues faced by these foreign workers and the enforcement of various laws related to workers’ accommodation.

Below is the full text of the Q & A session with him:

What action has been taken against employers who do not comply with laws, rules and regulations and what has happened to complaints filed?

Employers who fail to comply with any act enforced by the Human Resources Ministry, specifically those by the Labour Department, such as the Employment Act 1955 (Act 265), the National Wages Consultative Council Act 2011 (Act 732), the Employees’ Minimum Standards of Housing, Accommodation and Amenities Act 1990 (Act 446), the Children and Young Persons (Employment) Act 1966 (Act 350), the Private Employment Agencies Act 1981 (Act 246) and all regulations made under those acts will be subjected to an action of prosecution or compound for compoundable offences.

The situation at Top Glove hostels was exposed (following the outbreak of Covid-19) and they were raided four months ago. This is believed to be just the tip of the iceberg. With efforts undertaken to contain the pandemic, will the Human Resources Ministry continue the enforcement targeting other industries or companies?

The ministry is focused on employee accommodation, especially during this pandemic, in sectors and sub-sectors that do not comply with Act 446 and the regulations.

Ministry personnel conduct a spot check on a foreign workers hostel

The enforcement is on employers with a big number of employees with concerns about the spread of Covid-19 and other infectious diseases, due to cramped accommodation, overcrowding and lack of hygiene.

We will continue to inspect these accommodations nationwide in collaboration with other regulatory agencies such as the Health Ministry and local authorities and target sectors including plantations, construction and electronics manufacturing where there’s a possibility of worker exploitation.

Exorbitant fees imposed by recruitment agents is another issue. Many foreign workers are being compelled to pay large sums of money as agents’ fees before coming to Malaysia. How bad is the situation in Malaysia? Are steps being taken to protect the rights of foreign workers?

Generally, the private recruitment agencies in Malaysia are regulated under the Private Employment Agencies Act 1981 (Act 246). The latest amendment made to the act came into operation beginning Feb 1, 2018. The main purposes of the amendment are to strengthen the law especially on enforcement action as well as to increase the penalty under the act.

This act has clearly mentioned in its First Schedule that the placement fee for non-citizen employees to be employed within Malaysia cannot be more than one month of the basic wages for the first month.

The act has also provided that the placement fee can be imposed either on the employer or on the non-citizen employee. However, if such a fee has been paid by the employer, no placement fee can be demanded from the noncitizen employee.

Thus, any person who contravenes this and imposes or receives any amount greater than the fee as specified above is committing an offence and shall, upon conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding RM50,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 1 year, or both.

Besides that, the ministry will also review all the existing memoranda of understanding (MoU) with the source country to check on the relevant costs involved so that this problem can be tackled and the rights of foreign workers can also be protected.

Discussions with the relevant source countries need to be held especially for those placements made through recruitment agencies.

Are the penalties sufficient to create awareness and fear among the employers who choose to defy the law? Is the ministry making enough effort to bring errant employers to book?

The imposition of a fine amounting to not exceeding RM50,000 for the failure of any employer to comply with any provisions under all the relevant acts mentioned is standardised, except for the Employment Act 1955 [Act 265] which has yet to be tabled in Parliament and has been proposed to be of the same amount, i.e. RM50,000, too. As for now, the penalty under Act 265 is a fine of up to RM10,000.

The imposition of the big amount in penalties is to ensure that employers do take reasonable actions to comply with the law by providing good pay and living conditions to employees, be they local or foreign.

Forced labour still an issue

And put a halt to human trafficking and slavery.

Employers shall not unnecessarily pay large amounts in penalties just to evade liabilities under the law. It is the hope of the ministry that employers in Malaysia comply with the minimum standards as specified by the law.

For original article please click here! https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/571238