Whenever attempts are made to improve fundamental labour standards, we witness employer’s begging for a deferment or shelving of such progressive changes altogether.
From the implementation of the minimum wage and the minimum standards of housing to now, the amendments to the Employment Act 1955, the employers keep repeating their tagline – they need an extension of time to accommodate such changes as though they were caught with their pants down over the matter!
Take the National Wages Consultative Council Act 2011, for example. This piece of social legislation was introduced after due consultation with relevant stakeholders, including the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF). Under Section 25(1) of the act, it is mandated that the minimum wage be reviewed at least once in two years – a fact that employers cannot feign ignorance.
Despite this mandatory requirement, employers never fail to whine when the minimum wage is, by operation of law, improved periodically. Being naysayers, they have unfailingly opposed enhancements to minimum wages – despite workers being confronted with an escalating cost of living – even though employers ought to have taken notice of their legal obligation to conform with the provisions of Section 25 (1).
Turning to the Employees’ Minimum Standards of Housing, Accommodations and Amenities Act 1990, we believe that housing workers in deplorable conditions is unacceptable, inhumane and akin to [placing them in] forced labour camps. Malaysian employers craving for migrant guest workers to sustain their operations and, by extension, their profit margins, have a moral obligation to ensure that they conform to this act.
Unfortunately, employers are still seeking an extension of time over the matter and, in the process, housing workers in conditions that violate the basic housing requirements of the law. Sadly, the Ministry of Human Resources seems to lack the will to impose the strength of the act on employers and, in the circumstances, condone outright violations of the law.
As for the amendments to the Employment Act 1955, these were not formulated overnight but over a considerable period of time and, that too, in consultation with employers organisations. It was also in the public domain that the amendments were tabled and passed by both Parliament and the Senate which in itself took a substantial amount of time plus the time taken to obtain royal assent.
So, it would have been expected of employers to have prepared themselves to implement these amendments and not beg for deferments.
Instead, the employers prostrated before the pro-employer government to seek a postponement of the rather diluted scope of amendments to the Employment Act 1955.
We in the Penang division of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) were not surprised when the human resources minister succumbed to the employers’ lobby over the matter and flip-flopped in deferring the implementation of the amendments – a case of pandering to the employers, laying bare the scale of influence employers have over the government.
Finally, we wish to turn to one specific amendment to the Employment Act 1955 to drive home the point that employers lack moral justification for seeking a deferment of the amendments.
As we understand, at the 88th session of the International Labour Organization on 30 May 2000, the ILO, constituted by the tripartite employers-workers-government components, revised the Maternity Protection Convention 1952 with Convention 183 providing for maternity leave of 14 weeks (98 days).
Employers organisations like the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) and the Federation Of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) ought to have taken note of this convention. But for 22 years (2000 to 2022) these employers organisations never cared a damn, on their own free will, to provide female workers with 14 weeks (98 days) of maternity leave in line with Convention 183. And when, after an inordinate delay of 22 years, the government decided to put in place Convention 183, the employers cartel begged for more time, as though a lapse of 22 years was not enough.
In our view, this single act, of attempting to postpone implementation of ILO Convention 183, is a manifestation of the uncaring mentality of the employers even on a basic issue of maternity protection for female workers – notwithstanding that female workers constitute a substantial proportion of the working population!
K Veeriah is secretary of the Penang division of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC)