Saturday, November 21, 2020

Pandemic taking a toll on workers’ rights, say lawyers, activists

Workers are more aware of their rights but still fear employers taking advantage of them.

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Fear of losing their jobs is causing workers to become increasingly concerned about their legal employment rights which, according to lawyers and activists, are being violated in many cases.

Bar Council president Salim Bashir said the business and industrial sectors depend on the country’s economic health to operate successfully and are being negatively affected by the downturn in the global economy, draining the financial resources of industry players.

He said without positive finances, company owners cannot protect the positions of their employees which is resulting in many layoffs.

“But many retrenched employees are now aware of their legal rights and the compensation that can be claimed from employers,” he told MalaysiaNow.

He said workers’ concern for the rights which protect them was driven by the inability to pay their bills and support their families.

“The situation would be even worse for them if they were fired from the company without having access to the rights and compensation that should be given to them by law.”

Salim advised employees to be aware of their rights by seeking legal advice and to complain to the human resources ministry if they are mistreated.

The Social Security Organisation (Socso) Employment Insurance System (EIS) revealed in June that the country’s unemployment rate increased by 42% for the first quarter of this year due to the pandemic.

The EIS also showed that more than 18,000 people over 45 lost their jobs after the movement control order (MCO) was implemented.

In its report, “Employment Outlook, The Impact of Covid-19 on Loss of Employment”, EIS revealed that the pandemic has had a disastrous effect on many businesses. With an average 37% decrease in demand, 42% of companies cannot operate as usual.

Other findings are that the unemployment rate is expected to reach 4% by 2021 compared to 3.2% during the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and 3.7% during the economic downturn in 2018.

Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) deputy president S Arutchelvan told MalaysiaNow they are getting reports of more employment rights violations than before the pandemic and need to open another hotline centre to ensure they can provide more effective services for those struggling.

He said the Employee Complaint System hotline was launched when the government implemented the MCO in March, and through PSM’s webinar forum, they found that the average employee felt their job and rights were increasingly threatened.

Arutchelvan said many are still confused over their right to claim under job subsidy schemes and employee insurance schemes. This uncertainty results in many employees being taken advantage of by their employers or worrying about being taken advantage of.

“Awareness is now higher than usual because employees feel increasingly threatened,” he said.

“However, due to fear of losing their jobs, many are submitting to various rights violations such as forced salary deductions, forced leave and so on.”

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