The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) said a series of Covid-19 outbreaks have brought to fore the government's failure to enforce against cramped workers' dormitories.
"It is clear that the various government agencies such as the Human Resources Ministry, Immigration, Fire and Rescue Department and the local council have shirked their responsibilities to ensure that the migrant workers are given proper accommodation by the employers as stipulated by the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990.
"They have not only failed miserably in their enforcement but also let down the local and migrant workers who are housed by employers in overcrowded dormitories which are shared by workers when they are on or off shift," MTUC secretary-general J Solomon said in a statement.
Solomon said before the Covid-19 pandemic, there had already been an uptick in other diseases due to cramped quarters.
"Everyone is aware that inspections on such premises by the Labour Department are crucial if we want to eliminate the myriad of hygiene and safety issues that involved migrant workers over the last decade or so.
"Besides the current spread of Covid-19 among them, we had seen the resurgence of diseases like TB and dysentery among others which were not heard of for some time in the country," he said.
Yesterday, the Health Ministry announced 172 new Covid-19 cases, the highest daily increase in almost three months.
The country's Covid-19 situation had been improving with double-digit cases in the last weeks, but fresh outbreaks among the migrant population have sent the numbers rocketing again.
In the last week, new outbreaks were detected at the Semenyih and Sepang immigration detention centres on top of the Bukit Jalil Immigration detention centre outbreak discovered earlier.
A new cluster involving 44 foreign workers was also detected at a construction site in Kuala Lumpur, prompting Health Ministry director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah to advise employers to address the issue of cramped accommodations.
“Our studies show that most probably the foreign workers are staying in confined or cramped spaces. That is the main factor for the spread of infection among them,” he had said.
Solomon (photo) said labour inspectorates play a critical role in protecting workers by monitoring and enforcing compliance with the provision of labour laws and standards.
"Labour inspection will guide workers and employers to improve employment and working conditions by identifying loopholes and gaps in the system.
"Effective collaboration is the best channel to prevent and eradicate unacceptable forms of work and workplaces, which are a gross violation of fundamental human rights.
"MTUC has many times in the past urged the Labour Department to carry out collaborative inspection, but the response from the Labour Department has been very poor.
"The issue of decent and safe housing for migrants has come to the fore now with the emergence of a fresh cluster of 44 Covid-19 cases at a construction site in Kuala Lumpur as revealed by the Health Ministry yesterday," he said.
He said such inspections must now be expedited nationwide.
Solomon also echoed the Malaysian Medical Association's (MMA) concern that Covid-19 screenings for workers alone were insufficient.
"Like MTUC, the MMA has also observed that the majority of foreign workers in the country stay in overcrowded, cramped dormitories, construction site cabins, or hostels in shop lot rooms, terrace houses or apartments, where physical distancing may be almost impossible to observe.
"As such, MTUC fully supports MMA president Dr N Ganabaskaran when he called on employers to improve the poor living conditions of foreign workers and recognise the fact that merely testing their employees would be insufficient to prevent an outbreak of the virus," he said.
Solomon said he hoped Putrajaya would take the warnings seriously as there are risks of more outbreaks at worksites if proper measures are not taken. - Mkini
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