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Work-related rights include a safe working environment.
Work-related rights include a safe working environment.

LETTERS: The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) has urged employees to be more “considerate” and “sympathetic” towards employers in demanding better salaries and benefits. There was also a call to lower such expectations.

The reasons given were the global economy and the Covid-19 outbreak.

These universal issues are not new. There have been many health scares, including the H1NI virus, and the Ebola and Severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreaks.

These cannot be reasons to justify the lack of rights in terms of salaries, benefits and even increments for employees.

MEF was responding to the 2020 Hays Asia Salary Guide, where it was found that professionals in Malaysia are (the most) unhappy with their compensation packages compared with other countries in the region.

Our laws are not regular in terms of employment. There is the Employment Act 1955, which provides for minimum wage and (theoretically) accounts for employee rights like annual leave, termination rights and remuneration.

Section 34 provides for prohibition of night work for women who work in industrial or agricultural sectors.

MEF’s stance aside, there have also been louder voices calling for better female rights in the workplace, especially when it comes sexual harassment.

Yes, it is a given that an employer who fails to hold an inquiry would be subject to an offence (Section 89F) but the fact that it is in the hands of the employer in itself does not bode well.

Alternatively, the complaint could be made to the director- general (Section 89D).

We do not know how the assessment is done and how this is proven if the case does not make it to the court.

Overall, there are seven provisions that cover what has become heavily accounted for in other countries.

Aside from this, there is the sole Section 509 of the Penal Code, the Code of Practice on the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace (1999) and for public servants, the Public Service Department Circular Updated 2018. The code has not been updated since 1999.

Singapore passed the Protection from Harassment Act (Poha) in 2014. But fret not. The Women, Family and Community Ministry has announced that the Sexual Harassment Bill would be tabled next month.

Let’s hope that the ambiguities in Part XVA of the Employment Act 1955 will not be present in the new Sexual Harassment Bill.

Notice a pattern here?

Employers seem to have the upper hand in almost all aspects. There is no doubt that there are challenges on the part of the employers to maintain a sense of stability in times like these, especially in fiduciary and financial terms. MEF has expressed this dilemma, in not so many words.

That does not, however, negate the fact that there is a systemic issue in terms of employment rights.

The Employment Act 1955, for example, is not standardised as it does not apply to public servants. Furthermore, it applies only to Peninsular Malaysia and Labuan.

The limited rights that employees have are scattered and not widespread. Malaysians have to face a range of issues, including mental illness, coupled with a high cost of living.

The least Malaysians should have are rights in the workplace, including the right to request for incentives and benefits, have a safe work environment and earn a decent income.

PARVEEN KAUR HARNAM

KUALA LUMPUR


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

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