Malaysia pushes employers to improve housing facilities for foreign labour amid Covid-19 pandemic

Legal action will be taken against Top Glove as they did not comply with the basic requirements for worker housing. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Employers in Malaysia must prepare adequate housing facilities for their foreign workers before they would be allowed into the country, a senior Cabinet minister said on Thursday (Dec 3) in a get-tough move as the government grapples with a surge in coronavirus infections in Selangor worker dormitories.

Senior Minister (Security cluster) Ismail Sabri Yaakob said employers must comply with the Workers' Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990, called Act 446, and have these accommodations approved by the Human Resources Ministry before they could import foreign labour with immediate effect.

Employer compliance with the Act has been spotty in the past. But the government is taking action now amid alarm caused by the explosion of Covid-19 cases over the last few weeks among migrant workers in Selangor who work for Top Glove, the world's biggest maker of rubber gloves.

"Before an employer makes an application to bring in foreign workers, the employer must obtain the certificate from the Human Resources Ministry to enable the Malaysian Immigration Department to issue a visa," Datuk Seri Ismail told reporters at a news conference to discuss worker housing, as quoted by Bernama news agency.

"This means, before foreign workers arrive in the country, the employers are required to make available accommodation that complies with Act 446. Otherwise, the foreign workers are (regarded) illegal immigrants," he added.

He said Act 446 not only involves basic housing for foreign workers, but also local workers.

"The focus of Act 446 at the moment is on foreign workers due to high number of Covid-19 cases involving them," he added.

At the same news conference, Human Resources Minister M. Saravanan said 91.1 per cent, or 1.4 million, foreign workers in Malaysia are provided with accommodation below that stipulated in Act 446.

He also said that though there are 1.6 million legal migrant labour in the country, "the government received applications for Certificate of Accommodation for only 143,587 or 8.89 per cent" of them by end-October, Bernama reported.

Datuk Seri Saravanan said his ministry's Labour Department has conducted 1,850 inspections since Sept 1 to enforce the minimum housing standard for workers, involving 1,813 employers and 37 centralised accommodation providers throughout Peninsular Malaysia and also in the Federal Territory of Labuan.

Malaysia said on Tuesday (Dec 1) that it had opened an investigation and would take legal action against Top Glove as it did not comply with the basic requirements for worker housing.

Investigators found the accommodations to be cramped, uncomfortable, with poor ventilation and lacking rest and kitchen areas, Department of Labour Peninsular Malaysia director-general Asri Ab Rahman told reporters.

Malaysia recorded an average of over 1,000 new Covid-19 cases a day last month, mostly caused by infections in Top Glove's dormitories and factories, and a separate outbreak in Sabah state.

Malaysia on Wednesday logged 851 new Covid-19 cases to bring the cumulative tally to 68,020. There were two more fatalities, raising the death toll caused by the virus to 365.

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