The bill to amend the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990 (Act) was passed by Dewan Rakyat on 15 July 2019.
In the bill’s explanatory statement, the government said that such changes are to ensure that the law is in line “with the evolution of international labour standards especially in terms of compliance with the standards” and “to help sustain the economic growth of the country and attract foreign investments especially in high-tech industries”.
So what are the changes that are being proposed? How will it affect employers and employees if it is passed in parliament?
Below is a summary of the key amendments to the Act that the government is proposing.
Application of the Act
Under the amendment, the Act will only apply to Peninsular Malaysia and the Federal Territory of Labuan instead of the whole of Malaysia. However, in the bill’s explanatory statement, it is said that the Government of Sabah and the Government of Sarawak have agreed that corresponding laws will be provided in their Labour Ordinance (Sabah Cap. 67) and Labour Ordinance (Sarawak Cap. 76).
Additional requirements/duties and responsibilities relating to employees’ accommodation (only applies to employees who are employed otherwise than to work in an estate)
These include a requirement to obtain a Certificate for Accommodation from the Director General before providing accommodation for employee. Employers who provide accommodation are required to, among other things:
(a) provide separate accommodation to employees of the opposite gender;
(b) to take necessary preventive measures to ensure employees’ safety and well-being;
(c) to take fire safety measures in accordance with the relevant written laws;
(d) to ensure that the electrical wiring systems comply with safety requirements in accordance with the relevant written laws; and
(e) to ensure that the employees receive the necessary medical assistance
An employer is also allowed to collect rent from an employee in respect of accommodation provided by the employer, which can be made by deduction from the employee’s wages.
Liability of directors, compliance officer, partner, manager, secretary
Under the amendment, such individuals may be charged severally or jointly with the company for offences committed by the company.
Employers are required, if ordered to do so by the Director General, to provide a nursery if the employees have together at least five dependants under four years of age living with them in the accommodation provided by the employer. Previously, an employer was under such duty if there were at least ten dependants (as opposed to five under the amendment).
Increase in punishment for certain offences under the Act
For example, employers may be liable to a fine not exceeding RM 50,000 for failing to transport safely and without delay employees employed on the estate who requires medical treatment to and from the hospital.
Even though employers are already under an obligation to comply with certain minimum building standards to ensure that the housing accommodations they provide are safe and fit for habitation, the bill further strengthens employee protection by requiring employers to, for example, ensure that the employees receive the necessary medical assistance which is a step forward in terms of making employees’ well-being a priority.
However, many have expressed confusion concerning the scope of the law, such as whether it is now mandatory for those in the industrial sectors to provide centralised accommodation for their employees. It is worth highlighting that the text of the bill does not state that it is now mandatory for all employers to provide centralised accommodation. The bill itself addresses the minimum standards that should be applied in the event such accommodation is provided. Confusion like this if left unaddressed is likely to lead to uncertainty in the law and problems with compliance.
This article was written by Donovan Cheah (Partner) and Adryenne Lim (Legal Executive). Donovan has been named as a recommended lawyer for Labour and Employment by the Legal 500 Asia Pacific 2017, 2018 and 2019, and he has also been recognised by Chambers Asia Pacific and Asialaw Profiles for his employment law and industrial relations work.
Donovan & Ho is a law firm in Malaysia. Our practice areas include employment law, dispute resolution, tax advisory and corporate advisory. Have a question? Please contact us.