Malaysia enforces requirement for improved worker accommodation to rein in COVID-19

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Malaysia has gazetted an emergency ordinance compelling employers to provide lodging with sufficient living space and amenities for migrant workers to effectively control the spread of COVID-19, the Human Resources Ministry said on Thursday.

It is among the first emergency ordinances - laws that do not require prior parliamentary approval - to be enforced since a national emergency was declared on Jan. 12 to curb the virus spread.

COVID-19 infections in Malaysia have raged amongst migrant workers who typically work and live closely, with an outbreak at world’s largest glove maker Top Glove Corp becoming the largest cluster in the country in December after over 5,000 workers were infected.

Minister M. Saravanan said under the emergency ordinance, the minimum housing standards for worker accommodation will now be enforced nationwide and the Labour Department authorised to order owners of accommodations to replace, change or improve workers’ lodging.

The department could also instruct them to move workers immediately from accommodation that are crowded and unsuitable for human lodging, at their own cost or face 200,000 ringgit ($49,505) in fines or a three-year jail term, or both.

The ministry, in recent investigations at glove makers Top Glove and Brightway Holdings’ facilities, found that workers lived in cramped, poorly ventilated and dirty accommodations.

Malaysian companies employs migrant workers primarily from Nepal, Bangladesh and Indonesia who work largely in the manufacturing and agriculture sectors.

The Southeast Asia nation reported on Thursday cumulative COVID-19 cases at nearly 275,000, and total fatalities at 1,030. ($1 = 4.0400 ringgit) (Reporting by Liz Lee; Editing by Angus MacSwan)