The Decent Work Working Group (DWWG), represented by 55 trade unions and non-governmental organisations, express grave concern that the government has backtracked on several critically important labour law changes (found in the Ministry of Human Resources’ initial draft Employment Act amendments in September 2018).
The DWWG has submitted a series of proposals with justifications supported by international labour standards including other international standards acceded to by the Malaysian government. The ministry did not have any consultation with DWWG.
The unilateral rejection of our recommendations without any consultation process shows that the ministry is utmost undemocratic, non-transparent and lacks accountability.
The Pakatan Harapan manifesto promised workers’ protection in line with international standards and International Labour Organization conventions.
But the amendments now placed on the table are contrary tp the manifesto, which advocates for improving the quality of life of the people, especially the working class.
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On working hours, the ministry initially proposed to reduce the weekly working time from 48 hours to 44, keeping in line with the rest of the Asean region.
But now it has gone back to the 70-year-old practice of 48 hours. The ILO adopted the 40-hour week convention in 1935. whereas, we are stuck with the 1919 convention.
The Employment Act provides minimum standards for all workers and should be applicable without any limitation. To some extent, the new proposal is worse than existing provisions.
“Malaysia aspires to be a high-income country, yet the minimal changes proposed by the government will keep worker protections in the 19th Century” said National Union of Transport Equipment and Allied Industries Workers general secretary Gopal Kishnam.
“Where is the consultation? We submitted a comprehensive set of proposals to the ministry but disappointingly there has been no response. This is not the Malaysia baru that was promised by Pakatan Harapan through its manifesto.”
We suspect the government is susceptible to employers’ arm-twisting tactics.
As the current labour law reform is the first major exercise in 60 years, we strongly urge the government to stop piecemeal reforms, engage stakeholders in meaningful consultation and put the legislative process on hold until it can demonstrate that workers and unions have actually been engaged in the process.
The DWWG is deeply disappointed that the Ministry of Human Resources has rejected almost all 46 recommendations addressed to it. Most of our proposed amendments are specific demands that trade unions and non-governmental organsations have been fighting for decades, for example:
- a 40-hour work week
- universal coverage for all employees
- gazetted public holidays for all workers;
- elimination of provisions enabling the labour supplier system (recently the government announced the removal of foreign labour suppliers; they said this was slavery)
- work on rest days and holiday to be considered as overtime (in spite of the monthly-rated or piece-rated systems)
- compulsory protection of night-shift workers’ safety and health; employers shall provide transport for workers from their home to the workplace
- automatic due check-off and paid leave for union activities;
- paid maternity protection of 98 days regardless of number of children (in fact, the government has gone back on its earlier proposal of 98 days paid leave)
- all written codes including codes of conduct on sexual harassment should be enforceable and punishable
- all forms of discrimination against workers be prohibited
- right of employment for foreign spouses of Malaysians
- right to work for refugees and asylum seekers, in line with the Pakatan Harapan manifesto’s 35th promise
- [an end to] the withholding of migrant workers’ identity documents, which is considered forced labour
- right to seek redress for migrant workers, irrespective of their status
The DWWG calls upon the government to protect casual and informal sector workers under the Employment Act.
We have been receiving complaints from workers involved in e-hailing services and their basic rights were violated in many circumstances. The definition of employee in the Employment Act must be amended to include this category of workers.
We urge the Ministry of Human Resources to arrange a consultation meeting with our group as soon as possible. The ministry should not take the recommendations of 55 trade unions, migrant worker organisations and non-government organisations across the country lightly.