Appropriate living conditions essential for migrant workers

Employers’ decision to postpone the compliance would be immorally responsible for Malaysians who are putting their lives at risk as well as for the foreign workers.

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Published by The Malaysian Insight, Free Malaysia Today & The Star, image from The Straits Times.

RECENTLY, our country has been overwhelmed with news regarding an increase in Covid-19 infections among the foreign workers.

It seems to have followed a similar pattern in Singapore whereby local cases are going down but a spike in new cases has been contributed by foreign workers.

As of the latest statistics, clusters of Covid-19 infections involving foreign workers have been detected at three construction sites as well as at three immigration depots.

More than 4,000 undocumented immigrants have been detained at these depots for not possessing valid travel and work document and tested for Covid-19.

This condition has certainly caught the attention of Malaysians in working our way out of this health crisis.

As the number of local daily cases start to tone down, some have started to put the blame on these foreign workers but is it justifiable to do so?

Let’s first look at the factors which do not support the effort in mitigating the spread of virus. According to the Health Director-General Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, the main reasons are their crowded living environment and poor hygiene practices.

But migrant workers should not be the only ones blamed for such conditions.

Aside from them not being hygienic, it is very likely that the workers are left with no choice but to stay in the cramped spaces due to low wages or because accommodations have been designated by the employers.

Therefore, the attention should also be pointed to the employers as they are responsible for the welfare of the workers. The implementation of standard operating procedures (SOPs) at accommodations is as important as implementing them at the worksites.

Dr Noor Hisham has called on the employers to ensure that physical distancing measures at workers’ accommodations are taken seriously by having beds at least one to two metres apart from each other, to avoid food preparation and consumption in large groups, to avoid crowding leisure spaces, and to ensure that the toilets and surrounding areas are cleaned and sanitised.

As stated in the amended Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 2019, scheduled to take effect today for Peninsular Malaysia and Labuan, one of the duties and responsibilities of an employer associated with the current situation is under Section 24J:

(f) To take preventive measures to contain the spread of infectious diseases as ordered by the Medical Officer of Health in accordance with the relevant written laws and the employer shall, at his own expense, make arrangements as ordered by the Medical Officer of Health so that all or any of the employees be given immunization against any infectious disease.

Another sub-section of Section 24J that is closely related – (b) to take necessary preventive measures to ensure employees’ safety and well-being.

So, there are written evidences which stated employers’ obligation to take actions in curbing the spread of Covid-19 outbreak among migrant workers.

The right action has been pursued previously by making it compulsory for foreign workers in all sectors to undergo Covid-19 screening after seeing a rise in number of cases at construction sites.

But this detection measure has to come along with preventive measures to ensure social distancing measures can be practised by foreign workers namely to provide appropriate residences for them.

The most recent announcement by the Human Resources Minister M. Saravanan had the government giving a grace period of three months until August 31 for the employers to comply with the amendments to the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act.

However, the deadly nature of the pandemic that could worsen the current condition should be the key reason for employers not to delay compliance to the amendments.

The amendments were passed in the Parliament in July last year then gazetted in September so the duration since then should have provided sufficient time for the employers.

Employers’ decision to postpone the compliance would be immorally responsible for Malaysians who are putting their lives at risk as well as for the foreign workers.

Furthermore, as most of the foreign workers are hired for the 3D jobs (dangerous, dirty and difficult), they are prone to unhygienic surroundings.

So, the awareness about the severity of the pandemic also needs to be instilled by educating them on the SOPs at worksites and at their accommodations.

Although we hope Malaysia’s Covid-19 cases would not be as bad as Singapore’s, as noted by a public health specialist with Universiti Malaya Dr Rafdzah Ahmad Zaki, prompt preparations need to be taken because foreign workers already make up 15% to 30% of the labour force, according to experts.

So, Singapore should be the point of reference for Malaysia to learn lessons from and serves as a wake-up call.

The enforcement of the amended Act should not be delayed as it is not only important to prevent the widespread of the virus but also for the well-being of the foreign workers.

Nur Sofea Hasmira Azahar is Research Analyst at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

Bahasa Melayu

Diterbitkan oleh Berita Harian.

Baru-baru ini, negara dikejutkan peningkatan jangkitan COVID-19 dalam kalangan pekerja asing. Ia seakan mengikut corak sama seperti Singapura, dengan kes tempatan menurun, tetapi meningkat dalam kalangan warga asing.

Berdasarkan statistik kesihatan terkini, kluster COVID-19 membabitkan pekerja asing dikesan di tiga tapak pembinaan dan tiga depoh tahanan imigresen (DTI).

Lebih 4,000 pendatang asing tanpa izin (PATI) ditahan di depoh berkenaan kerana tidak memiliki dokumen perjalanan serta kerja sah dan semuanya menjalani ujian saringan COVID-19.

Situasi ini tentu menarik perhatian masyarakat lebih-lebih lagi dalam usaha untuk bebas daripada wabak. Oleh kerana jumlah kes harian tempatan mula reda, segelintir masyarakat menyalahkan pekerja asing. Wajarkah masyarakat bertindak sedemikian?

Ketua Pengarah Kesihatan, Datuk Dr Noor Hisham, memaklumkan antara faktor utama penularan wabak dalam kalangan pekerja asing adalah persekitaran tempat tinggal sesak dan kebersihan tidak memuaskan.

Namun, untuk menyalahkan pekerja asing sahaja dalam hal ini tidak adil. Selain tidak mengutamakan kebersihan, pekerja asing mungkin tiada pilihan selain tinggal di ruang sempit kerana dibayar gaji rendah atau tempat tinggal mereka tidak disediakan majikan.

Jadi, perhatian harus dihalakan kepada majikan kerana mereka bertanggungjawab terhadap kebajikan pekerja asing.

Pelaksanaan prosedur operasi standard (SOP) di tempat tinggal juga sama penting dengan di tempat kerja.

Dr Hisham berkata, majikan bertanggungjawab memastikan langkah penjarakan sosial di tempat tinggal pekerja diambil serius dengan memastikan jarak antara katil ke katil sekurang-kurangnya satu hingga dua meter, elak pekerja berada di tempat makan dalam kumpulan besar, elak berada di ruang sempit untuk berehat dan memastikan tandas serta kawasan sekitar kerap dibersihkan.

Seperti dinyatakan dalam pindaan Akta Standard Minimum Perumahan dan Kemudahan Pekerja 2019 berkuat kuasa 1 Jun bagi Semenanjung dan Wilayah Persekutuan Labuan, salah satu tanggungjawab majikan berkaitan keadaan semasa adalah di bawah Seksyen 24J(f).

Ia memperuntukkan kewajipan mengambil langkah pencegahan untuk membendung penyebaran penyakit berjangkit seperti diarahkan pegawai perubatan kesihatan mengikut undang-undang bertulis yang berkaitan dan majikan hendaklah atas perbelanjaannya sendiri, membuat perkiraan seperti diarahkan pegawai perubatan kesihatan supaya semua atau mana-mana pekerja diberikan imunisasi terhadap penyakit berjangkit.

Selain itu, Seksyen 24J(b) menuntut majikan mengambil langkah pencegahan yang perlu bagi memastikan keselamatan dan kesejahteraan pekerja.

Jadi, terdapat bukti bertulis tanggungjawab majikan dalam mengambil tindakan untuk membendung penularan COVID-19 dalam kalangan pekerja asing.

Tindakan sewajarnya diambil kerajaan dengan mewajibkan pekerja asing dalam semua sektor menjalani ujian saringan sebelum ini selepas jumlah kes di tapak pembinaan meningkat.

Namun, langkah pengesanan harus selari pencegahan bagi memastikan penjarakan sosial boleh diamalkan pekerja asing dengan menyediakan kediaman sesuai untuk mereka.

Menteri Sumber Manusia, Datuk Seri M Saravanan, berkata kerajaan memberikan tempoh tiga bulan sehingga 31 Ogos kepada majikan untuk mematuhi pindaan Akta Standard Minimum Perumahan dan Kemudahan Pekerja.

Namun, wabak yang boleh membawa maut ini harus menjadi sebab utama untuk majikan tidak melambatkan pematuhan terhadap pindaan akta itu.

Masa diberikan untuk majikan mencukupi kerana pindaan ini diluluskan di Parlimen pada Julai tahun lalu dan diwartakan pada September.

Keputusan majikan untuk menangguhkan pematuhan akta menunjukkan sikap mereka yang tidak bertanggungjawab terhadap rakyat Malaysia, meletakkan nyawa mereka dalam risiko dan pekerja asing.

Memandangkan sebilangan besar pekerja asing diupah untuk pekerjaan 3D (kotor, bahaya dan sukar), mereka terdedah persekitaran tidak bersih. Jadi, kesedaran tentang pandemik perlu diterapkan dalam diri mereka dengan pendidikan mengenai SOP di tempat kerja dan tempat tinggal.

Walaupun kita berharap COVID-19 di Malaysia tidak menjadi seteruk Singapura, seperti dikatakan pakar kesihatan awam di Universiti Malaya, Dr Rafdzah Ahmad Zaki, persiapan harus dilakukan dengan segera kerana pekerja asing menyumbang 15 hingga 30 peratus jumlah tenaga kerja.

Oleh itu, Malaysia harus mengambil iktibar daripada situasi di Singapura dan cuba untuk tidak melakukan kesilapan sama. Penguatkuasaan akta yang dipinda terhadap majikan ini tidak boleh ditangguhkan bagi mencegah penularan virus dan juga untuk kesejahteraan pekerja asing.

Nur Sofea Hasmira Azahar merupakan Penganalisis Penyelidik di EMIR Research, sebuah organisasi pemikir bebas yang fokus kepada pencernaan saranan-saranan dasar strategik berteraskan penyelidikan yang terperinci, konsisten dan menyeluruh.

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