Saturday, February 24, 2007

Ministries in turf war over new Bill (NST)

Ministries in turf war over new Bill

Saturday, 24 February 2007, 09:16am

Datuk Seri Dr Fong Chan Onn MTUC backs Fong on migrant workers

by Annie Freeda Cruez

A confrontation appears to be looming between the Human Resources and Home Affairs ministries over the issue of the Foreign Workers Bill.

There is a strong possibility that Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Dr Fong Chan Onn will not support the Bill at the Cabinet Committee on Foreign Workers meeting next month.

The meeting will be chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Fong said there were more than enough labour laws in the country to govern local and foreign workers "and there is no need for another law".

There are 22 Acts that govern and protect local and foreign workers in Malaysia.

Among them are the Employment Act 1955, Industrial Relations Act 1967, Workmen’s Compensation Act 1952, Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994, Trade Union Act 1959, Private Employment Agencies Act 1981, Employment Information Act 1953 and Wages Council Act 1947.

Fong said the existing Acts and regulations were sufficient to govern the 10.4 million local and 1.8 million foreign workforce nationwide.

"We cannot have separate labour laws for foreign workers," he said.

He added the Cabinet had clearly stated that all workers, irrespective of locals or foreigners, and their work-related problems would be handled by his ministry.

He was commenting on Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad’s announcement that the Foreign Workers Bill would soon be ready for Cabinet approval before being tabled in parliament.

Under the new legislation, the government plans to take the thumbprints of employers with foreign workers to better monitor those who come here to earn a living.

Radzi had said employers would be fully responsible for their workers, provide them with accommodation and record the workers’ movements if they wanted to go out of their workplaces.

Fong said local and foreign workers’ training, retraining, salary, wages and industrial problems would also fall under his ministry and not that of the Home Affairs Ministry.

The Home Affairs Ministry’s responsibilities in the matter stopped at foreign workers’ intake and entry into the country.

He said the functions of the Home Affairs Ministry were clearly stated in the amended version of the Ministerial Function 2005 protocol following the creation of the ministry.

Director-General of Labour Datuk Ismail Abd Rahim, in supporting Fong, said: "We are against the Bill.

"There are enough laws to govern the employment of foreign workers and also to ensure that the employers comply with our policy with regard to labour and employment."

He said there was no need for a new law as it would only create more confusion and duplication.

"What is important now is to have a law to look into the entry of foreigners to avoid illegal entry and employment," Ismail said.

"I have to make it very clear that it was clarified by the government that the Home Affairs Ministry is responsible for the recruitment and the process related to the recruitment.

"The Human Resources Ministry is to look into the affairs of foreign workers after employment, ensuring that their employment was in accordance with the law and that their employment would not threaten or disrupt the peaceful and harmonious industrial relations in the country, including labour stability."

He said the ministry had to ensure that the employment of foreign workers did not affect or reduce the employment opportunities of local workers.

Ismail said the Employment Act stated that there should not be any discrimination between foreign and local workers in terms of salary and terms and conditions of employment which include treatment of workers and working hours.

Every year, the Labour Department handles some 10,000 workers’ complaints including that of foreign workers being short-changed by employers, be it in terms of wages or termination of contract.

Ismail said his department last year handled 1,378 cases involving foreign workers of which 1,300 cases were resolved either in the Industrial court or at the labour department with the workers compensated to the tune of RM13 million.

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