Country will pay heavy price if health and safety of workplaces, domitories overlooked

Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) logo

KUCHING, May 26: The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) has urged relevant agencies to immediately conduct a nationwide check on workplaces and foreign workers’ dormitories to mitigate fresh outbreaks of Covid-19 cases.

MTUC secretary-general J. Solomon pointed out that their calls have been ignored so far and that there has been little to no monitoring in ensuring employers have enforced the guidelines and standard operating procedure (SOP) at workplaces.

“Worse still, there has hardly been any move to compel employers to provide suitable accommodation for foreign workers to minimise the risk of infections.

“The issue of a decent and safe housing for migrants has come to the fore now with the emergence of a fresh cluster of 44 Covid-19 cases at a construction site in Kuala Lumpur as revealed by the Health Ministry yesterday (May 25).

“This shows that the inspection of workplaces and foreign workers dormitories must be expedited nationwide,” he said in a statement today.

Solomon pointed out that inspections on such premises by the Labour Department were crucial to eliminate the myriad of health and safety issues that involved migrant workers over the last decade or so.

“It is clear that the various government agencies such as Ministry of Human Resources, Immigration, Fire and Rescue Department and the local councils have shirked their responsibilities to ensure that the migrant workers are given proper accommodation by the employers as stipulated by the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990.

“They have not only failed miserably in their enforcement but also let down the local and migrant workers who are housed by employers in overcrowded dormitories which is shared by workers when they are on or off shift,” he said.

Solomon thus emphasised that employers must work hand in hand immediately with the Human Resources Ministry and the Health Ministry to draw up specific guidelines and procedures at workers’ quarters to check against the spread of the virus.

“We urge employers and the government to make this a top priority as any clusters in workers’ dormitories or living quarters will involve public safety as the employees normally live in rented apartments, houses or shop lots in residential areas.

“Labour inspectorates play a critical role in protecting workers by monitoring and enforcing compliance to the provisions of labour laws and standards. Labour inspection will guide workers and employers to improve employment and working conditions, by identifying loopholes and gaps in the system.

“Effective collaboration is the best channel to prevent and eradicate unacceptable forms of work and workplaces, which are a gross violation of fundamental human rights,” he stressed.

MTUC, Solomon added, has many times in the past urged the Labour Department to carry out collaborative inspection but was met with very poor response.

He pointed out that even the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) had joined MTUC in urging the authorities to do more than just have foreign workers undergo Covid-19 screenings, as it may give workers and employers a false sense of security.

“Like MTUC, the MMA has also observed that the majority of foreign workers in the country stay in overcrowded, cramped dormitories, construction site cabins, or hostels in shop lot rooms, terrace houses or apartments, where physical distancing may be almost impossible to observe.

“As such, MTUC fully supports MMA president Dr N Ganabaskaran called on employers to improve the poor living conditions of foreign workers and recognise the fact that merely testing their employees would be insufficient to prevent an outbreak of the virus,” he said.

With the latest warning coming from no less than the umbrella body of medical practitioners in this country, MTUC hopes that employers and the government will take seriously on the potential risk of Covid-19 outbreaks at work sites and workers dormitories if proper measures were not taken.—DayakDaily