Despite the countless horror stories surrounding migrant worker welfare, one organization provides a silver lining.
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Migrant workers are often the driving force behind developing countries. The progress in these countries is made possible only because there are labourers who are willing to work the jobs that citizens of the country often reject.
However, migrant workers are often treated as the bottom rungs of society and the welfare of migrant workers is constantly being overlooked. Unfortunately, they are the ones that receive the harshest blow whenever we experience a social or economic downfall.
This is especially true with migrant workers in Southeast Asia. In Malaysia alone, migrant workers experienced the hardest impacts of COVID-19 due to their poor living conditions that exacerbated the spread of this virus and threatened our nation’s ability to shake off the pandemic.
Migrant workers powered industries that produce goods such as rubber gloves and frozen foods that soared in demand during the pandemic. One of the major COVID-19 outbreaks we’ve had in Malaysia were from factories belonging to rubber glove maker Top Glove. The government carried out raids on its dormitories only to discover overcrowded conditions that aggravated the spread of the virus.
According to the Human Resources Ministry, of Malaysia’s more than 1.5 million documented migrant workers, 91 percent live in accommodation that does not meet the country’s minimum housing standards.
The harsh reality of migrant worker accommodation
When enforcement officers from the Department of Labour Peninsular Malaysia (JTKSM) raided a hostel housing 40 migrant workers employed by a retailer in Bandar Tun Razak, Cheras, they discovered a horrifying scene of unsanitary and despicable living conditions.
The hostel was located on two floors of a three-storey shophouse. The workers slept on folded cardboard boxes and shared their space with the retailer’s stocks. The hostel was also found to have an overwhelming amount of rats and cockroaches.
Clothes hung from makeshift clothes lines and water puddles were seen everywhere due to leaky pipes. There was little to no ventilation within the space.
A representative of the employer claimed that they have fulfilled the necessary obligations to provide accommodation for their workers but have no time to monitor their living conditions. They also said that they left it up to the workers to solve any issues they face regarding their accommodations.
It was reported that as of December 2021, 50 percent of 37,662 employers in Malaysia had yet to obtain the Certificate of Accommodation from JTKSM, as required under the amendments to the Accommodation and Amenities Act 1990 (Act 446).
According to JTKSM Deputy Director-General of Operations, Mohd Asri Abdul Wahab, the certificate will only be issued by JTKSM if the employer or centralised accommodation provider provides housing that meets the minimum standards specified by Act 446. This includes the provision of utilities and amenities such as bathroom, toilet, bed and mattress as well as space for cooking, resting and eating.
Jonathan Low, Executive Director of STF Saujana Sdn. Bhd. commented on the reluctance of employers to ensure that their workers receive proper accommodations.
“It’s about cost saving. If an SME only has 2-3 foreign workers, would they be willing to spend RM10,000-RM 20,000 to renovate and set up accommodations? Rentals cost up to RM1,500 to RM2,000 a month.”
“They would rather buy a cabin and place it in the factory for them to stay. It’s more convenient for them. But this is not the proper way.”
Keeping humanity alive in the face of progress
Despite the surmounting reports of poor migrant welfare in Malaysia, STF Saujana’s Q Centre provides a silver lining.
Q Centre is a centralised accommodation provider that aims to provide workers with safe and comfortable living environments in accordance with Act 446. Their dormitories include basic amenities as well as top-notch services such as 24-hour patrol and facial recognition for enhanced security.
The Q Centre was designed to create safe, comfortable and conducive housing for migrant workers in order to safeguard their welfare and protect their rights. The quality accommodations provided by Q Centre helps ensure that employees are in a better position to perform at their respective jobs.
Put yourself in their shoes. For example, if you’re going overseas to study and you live in such improper conditions – no mattress, sleeping on paper boxes – are you able to focus and perform well?Jonathan Low, Executive Director, STF Saujana Sdn. Bhd.
With the capacity to accomodate a total of 210 tenants, the Q Centre facility located at Sungai Kapar Indah has a designated kitchen, canteen, laundry and recreational facilities to create a wholesome housing environment. They are currently housing employees from Alpine Pipe Manufacturing Sdn. Bhd.
Q Centre aims to expand their locations to normalize a higher standard of living for migrant workers. Their second facility will be located in Klang Sentral and will be able to accommodate up to 420 tenants. They are currently in the midst of discussing with a property developer to open new locations in Meru and Kapar.
Everyone deserves the right to be treated fairly. Citizens or not, foreign workers are still human beings and they contribute greatly to our country’s development. The honorable move by STF Saujana’s Q Centre to respect and uphold the rights of migrant workers should act as a blueprint for Malaysians in our treatment of foreign labourers.
To know more about STF Saujana’s Q Centre, visit their website HERE.