The Malaysian government is drafting a new law stating that employers must provide adequate housing for foreign workers.

The amendment to the Employment Act 1955 (Act 265) is expected to go through parliament in January next year. Currently, the law only stipulates that plantation companies must provide living quarters.

Human resource minister Datuk Seri Richard Riot Jaem said: “Upon approval, it is mandatory for employers to provide accommodation to foreign workers, and I believe the employers will make a beeline to seek accommodations which are managed by a company approved by the Home Ministry and the Ministry of Human Resources.”

Although it is being seen by some commentators as a way to better regulate the construction industry, the new law will apply to employers in all sectors.

Deputy works minister Datuk Rosnah Abdul Rashid Shirlin told the New Straits Times she believed it would raise the profile of the construction industry in particular and encourage more locals to take up jobs in construction.

“It will improve productivity and do away with eyesores in the form of workers’ quarters, or rumah kongsi,” she said.

“We should not allow unscrupulous opportunists to manipulate foreign workers. We need laws that would compel developers to be more professional.”

Richard said the lack of a minimum living standard for foreign workers had left Malaysia out of line with many other countries with large migrant workforces.

“It is hoped that with this initiative, the welfare and the safety of the foreign workers can be ensured, as well as preserving the social harmony among the community. [We will] adhere to international standards involving the management of foreign workers,” he said.

Exploitation of foreign workers has been a regular topic of discussion for Malaysian ministers lately – this year, a law has also been passed requiring Malaysian organisations hiring migrants to pay the foreign workers levy themselves, rather than deducting it from employees’ wages.

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