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Allow workers to take legal action against negligent employers

Photograph: Daniel Lee

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The Penang division of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress takes notice of the human resources minister’s announcement that stiffer penalities would be imposed for violation of work safety laws.

Our concern is this – would such measures alone make a difference?

The MTUC understands that the underlying principle of the Occupation Safety and Health Act, when introduced in 1994, was for employers to practise the idea of self-regulation of occupational health and safety at the work place. But the reality is otherwise.

We therefore believe that punitive measures by themselves are not the solution. What is much needed is the employers’ commitment to devise, implement and practise safe working standards at workplaces in keeping with the ideals of self-regulation. Until and unless employers nuture a culture of a safe workplace, cases of unwarranted loss of lives, work-related loss of limbs, hearing and whatnot will continue to prevail.

Workplace accidents, even if they were the result of employers’ negligence, is defined as an employment accident under the Social Security Act (Socso) 1969, and employers are protected from civil or criminal action in the matter. Given such unjust protection in law, workers have no choice but to accept payments from Socso on account of employment-related accidents.

And it is our call that the honourable minister tables amendments to Socso Act so that civil or criminal action can be brought against such negligent employers by workers or their famalies in cases of death.

Such recourse to the courts would put employers on their toes to ensure a safer workplace. Stiffer penalities notwithstanding, recourse to the courts would impose an obligation on employers to minimise negligence at the workplace.

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The minister’s admission that there only 1,600 officers in the Department of Occupational Safety and Health in the country puts to rest the MTUC’s age-old compliant of the government’s failure to ensure optimal staffing of the department. With drones and whatever equipment, nothing will work if the department continues to function without sufficient personnel. It is, therefore, our plea that the minister takes cognisance of the issue.

K Veeriah is the secretary of the Penang division of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress.

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