Malaysia's industries in shock over stiff govt fine on poor migrant lodgings

Employers face $16,540 penalty for each foreign worker found in overcrowded lodging

A health worker in a non-contact chamber used to take Covid-19 swab samples at a medical centre in Selangor. The Malaysian government is to conduct Covid-19 tests on 1.7 million foreign workers in the country. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
A health worker in a non-contact chamber used to take Covid-19 swab samples at a medical centre in Selangor. The Malaysian government is to conduct Covid-19 tests on 1.7 million foreign workers in the country. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PETALING JAYA • The Malaysian authorities' sudden decision to impose a RM50,000 (S$16,540) fine on employers for each foreign worker found living in overcrowded lodging has sent shock waves through industry players.

The Federation of Malaysia Manufacturers (FMM) said the Human Resources Ministry had given them until next March to comply with Act 446 of the Employees' Minimum Standards of Housing, Accommodations and Amenities.

It was therefore a shock, FMM said, when Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced the penalty would be imposed from last Thursday, in a move to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission among foreign workers in overcrowded housing.

"Employers are making the necessary adjustments, and are in the process of carrying out the necessary changes to comply with the regulations," said FMM president Soh Thian Lai.

"This sudden change of policy appears to show lack of communication among government agencies," he said, adding that employers needed time to make the necessary changes, including for renovations and applying for permits to convert non-residential spaces into dwelling enclaves.

Datuk Seri Ismail said the government will impose the stiff fine per worker unless employers provide improved lodgings - including those that allow for social distancing - after news of widespread Covid-19 infections among thousands of migrant workers at Top Glove's Selangor factories and dormitories.

He also said the government will conduct Covid-19 tests on 1.7 million foreign workers. Employers generally do not provide housing for legal migrant workers unless they work in factories or at construction sites.

Tan Sri Soh said the FMM wrote to Human Resources Minister M. Saravanan in August, and met him in September to seek a 12-month grace period for firms to make the extensive adjustments before the authorities took punitive action.

He said many town and district councils did not have guidelines and definite timelines to quickly approve applications to allow the industry to increase or convert lodging units for workers. Some workers are housed in shoplots.

"Converting shoplots into dwelling space will take time, especially with the additional cost incurred to renovate the area following the specifications outlined in the regulations, apart from meeting other requirements by the local authorities."

Small and Medium Enterprises Association of Malaysia president Michael Kang said the authorities should engage all stakeholders to understand the underlying problems first.

"Imposing such a hefty fine will only kill the industry," he said.

"The mid-tier companies said they can afford to provide better accommodation for foreign workers. But the majority can't. And most of the employers can't comply within such short notice."

Malaysia Employers Federation executive director Shamsuddin Bardan said many employers would "die faster" if the hefty RM50,000 fine were to be imposed for every foreign worker living in crowded units.

"It is a very expensive price to pay. Why burden the employers further with additional cost during such challenging times?"

Malaysia yesterday recorded 1,315 new Covid-19 cases. Four more fatalities were logged, taking the death toll to 354.

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 29, 2020, with the headline 'Malaysia's industries in shock over stiff govt fine'. Subscribe