MTUC Raises Cramped Migrant Worker Housing As Sectors Reopen

As many as 10 to 15 factory workers share small three-room apartments.

KUALA LUMPUR, April 29 — A union group has highlighted problems of packed migrant worker accommodation as the manufacturing and construction sectors were allowed to operate at full capacity from today.

The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) noted that migrant workers formed a sizable portion of the workforce employed in sectors prioritised for reopening during the Movement Control Order (MCO).

“In the construction sector, most workers live in close proximity in kongsi or makeshift accommodations on work sites with bare amenities.

“The same goes for factory workers – at times as many as 10 to 15 workers share small three-room apartments,” MTUC secretary-general J. Solomon said in a statement.

Singapore has reported a surge of Covid-19 cases linked to foreign worker dormitories that comprised 88 per cent of 14,446 confirmed infections in the country, with the New York Times reporting that these packed dormitories can house up to 20 people in one room.

The Kuala Lumpur wholesale market in Selayang and surrounding areas, where many migrant workers reside, have been put under Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO) after a Covid-19 cluster broke out there.

MTUC also raised complaints from workers who have been allowed to return to work in the past two months, such as the crowding of workers in transport provided by their employers like buses and vans, free mingling in the cafeteria and other areas at workplaces, and workstations that have not been realigned according to safe distancing of at least one metre.

“While MOH (Ministry of Health) has done its job in drawing up the SOP (standard operating procedure), the government must follow up by coming out with a solid plan to ensure the SOP is implemented and enforced by employers,” said Solomon.

“Merely warning employers that their operations will be shuttered if they do not comply is not nearly enough to ensure the SOP is adhered to. Strict enforcement is key to ensuring that the SOP is complied with, and action taken against recalcitrant employers.”

MTUC urged the government to provide a blueprint to enforce MOH guidelines at the workplace, including basic training for security guards and employers in enforcing the SOP, as well as ensuring that companies provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to workers and carrying out awareness campaigns.

These MOH guidelines include mandatory Covid-19 screening for workers, daily temperature checks, safe distancing, and the use of masks and sanitisers at workplaces, along with other more specific measures that need to be adopted by the respective employers, depending on the nature of their business, said MTUC.

Senior Minister of International Trade and Industry Mohamed Azmin Ali said yesterday that the government has decided to permit economic sectors that were previously allowed to continue operations during the first three phases of the MCO to fully reopen from today without any time restrictions, according to the needs of the respective industries.

“Companies in the permitted sectors must follow the SOP set for the respective industries. The failure of companies in complying with the SOP will cause legal action and immediate cancellation of the approval,” he said in a statement.

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