More effort needed to protect workers’ rights, says Minister Kulasegaran

HR ministry is proposing new initiatives to ease the burden of its stretched enforcement team which measures some 1,000 officers nationwide

By MARK RAO / Pic By BLOOMBERG

The Ministry of Human Resources (MoHR) is exploring new enforcement strategies and extending its legislative reach to better protect all workers in Malaysia, said its Minister M Kulasegaran.

It is nearly a year since Kulasegaran came into office and the Ipoh Barat MP said significant strides are being made in restoring the integrity of the ministry.

Public confidence in the ministry was severely dented from allegations of corrupt practices, fraudulent training courses and poor governance.

Ongoing investigations from Malaysia’s anti-graft agency into these allegations and the arrest of several officers revealed a government body that strayed from its responsibility to provide for the welfare of Malaysia’s labour force.

Kulasegaran, who came into office on May 21 last year, said his ministry did not compromise on matters of integrity and good governance and strove to make good on his promises.

“We feel we have done substantially to bring confidence and integrity to the MoHR,” he said in a media briefing.

He said this is in line with the newly-minted government’s pledge to redress the past misdeeds of the former administration.

However, he said he is only “reasonably satisfied” with the progress made as heavier and more difficult issues lie ahead.

Enforcement Challenges

The MoHR is proposing new initiatives to ease the burden of its stretched enforcement team which measures some 1,000 officers nationwide.

Public Service Department rejecting its request for more officers meant the ministry has to be innovative when it comes to enforcement and is now looking into an audit report for all companies as an internal check-and-balance system.

Kulasegaran says the SCAR will be an internal mechanism whereby a respective company commissions the report which covers all the requirements under the purview of the MoHR (Pic: TMRpic)

Kulasegaran said the Social Compliance Audit Report (SCAR) will be an internal mechanism whereby a respective company commissions the report which covers all the requirements under the purview of the MoHR.

This includes wages as well as Social Security Organisation (Socso) and Employees Provident Fund contributions being paid on time; leave allocated and given to employees; and housing accommodation for workers.

“By one act, we can reduce the number of officers that have to go and verify all those drawbacks,” he said.

“If the report is under satisfactory, we will not renew the necessary approvals that we have given (to the company), so this will work as an internal mechanism.”

He added that the employer will have to bear the cost to commission the report which will be done by a third party, thus avoiding additional cost borne by the government while reducing reliance on manpower.

Kulasegaran said the initiative is only at a proposal stage as the ministry engages with all relevant stakeholders, but said is open to becoming a regulation in the future. As it stands, companies can provide this audit report on a voluntary basis.

Extending Legislative Reach

Kulasegaran said his biggest setback since leading the MoHR was his inability to amend the relevant labour laws within the expected deadline.

“My greatest sadness is that I could not amend the Acts of Parliament within time. My expectation was that it will be done by March this year,” he said.

While engaging with various stakeholders to listen to and address their grievances, the failure to amend labour laws in the country limits the ministry’s legislative reach to enact meaningful change.

MoHR is also looking into a standalone act to protect domestic helpers in the country but regulations will come into place via amendments to existing laws before a new act is tabled (Pic: Bloomberg)

Kulasegaran said the delay was due to the lengthy and comprehensive engagement required to be undertaken with the various and diversified stakeholders in Malaysia’s labour market.

He said the ministry is now close to amending the seven labour-related laws in the upcoming Parliament sitting in July, with the Industrial Relations Act 1967 as the first to be amended followed by the consequent acts.

These include the Employment Act 1955, Trade Unions Act 1959, Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990, Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 and the Sabah and Sarawak labour ordinances.

Kulasegaran said the ministry is also working on two new acts to be tabled to the Cabinet, one of which is expanding Socso’s coverage to include the 1.4 million housewives in Malaysia today.

He said a standalone act to protect domestic helpers in the country is also being looked into, but regulations will come into place via amendments to existing laws before a new act is tabled.

The new act, if it materialises, would be timely as 10,000 online signatures were procured to demand justice for the death of Adelina Sau, an Indonesian domestic helper who was working in Malaysia.

This comes after her former employer was recently freed by the Malaysian High Court on abuse allegations believed to have caused her death.