Stop Piecemeal Reforms, Engage Stakeholders!

Press Statement by Decent Work Working Group on 20 March 2019 at Shah’s Village Hotel, Petaling Jaya.

The Decent Work Working Group (DWWG), represented by 55 trade unions and NGOs, expressed grave concern that the government has backtracked on several critically important labour law changes found in the Ministry of Human Resources’ (MOHR) initial draft Employment Act amendments in September 2018.

The DWWG has submitted series of proposals with justifications supported by international labour standards including other international standards acceded by the Malaysian government. The Ministry did not have any consultation with DWWG.

“Unilateral rejection of our recommendations without any consultation process shows MOHR is utmost undemocratic, non-transparent and lack of accountability”

“The PH Manifesto promised worker protections in line with the international standards and ILO Conventions, the amendments now placed on the table is contrary to the Pakatan Harapan manifesto which advocates for improving quality of life of rakyat especially the working class.”

On working hours, the ministry initially proposed to reduce the weekly working time from 48 to 44, keeping in line with the rest of the ASEAN region. But now they have reverted to 70 year old practice of 48 hours. The ILO adopted the 40 hour week Convention in 1935. whereas, we are stuck with 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 General Secretary of National Union of Transport Equipment and Allied Industries Workers (NUTEAIW) 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.

This labour law reform being the first major exercise in sixty years, we therefore strongly urge the government to stop piecemeal reforms, and engage stakeholders in meaningful consultation and put the legislative process on hold until they can demonstrate that workers and unions have actually been engaged in the process.”

The DWWG is deeply disappointed that the MOHR has rejected almost all 46 recommendations addressed to them. Most of our proposed amendments are specific demands that trade unions and NGOs have been fighting for decades, for example:

i) A 40 hour work week;

ii) Ensure universal coverage for all employees;

iii) Gazetted public holidays for all workers;

iv) Demand the elimination of provisions enabling labour supplier system, recently the government announcing removal of foreign labour suppliers, they said this is slavery;

v) Work on rest days and holiday considered overtime (in spite of monthly-rated or piece-rated);

vi) Compulsory protection of night shift workers’ safety and health, employers shall provide transportation from house to workplace;

vii) Automatic due check-off and grant paid leave for union activities;

viii) Paid maternity protection of 98 days regardless of number of children, in fact the government has gone back on its earlier proposal on 98 days paid leave;

ix) All written code including code of conduct on sexual harassment should be enforceable and punishable;

x) All forms of discrimination against workers be prohibited;

xi) Ensure foreign spouses of Malaysians have the right to be employed;

xii) Refugees and asylum seekers should be given the right to work as per PH manifesto’ 35th promise;

xiii) Withholding of migrant workers’ identity document is considered forced labour;

xiv) Migrant workers irrespective of their status have right to seek redress

The DWWG calls upon the government to protect casual and informal sector workers under the Employment Act.

We have been receiving complaints from workers involve 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 MOHR 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 NGOs across the country lightly.