Anti-discrimination laws on employment should be preventive

Be fair to everyone - ARNOLDUS/PIXABAY

The Association for Community and Dialogue (Acid) welcomes the proposed amendments to the Employment Act 1955 (EA 55), which was tabled for the first reading at the Dewan Rakyat last October, and the second reading was expected from 16 to 18 December.

While we welcome such a government initiative to meet International standards of labour law, we are quite concerned about issues related to a new Section 69F in respect of discrimination in employment. The proposed section 1 states: The director-general may inquire into and decide any dispute between an employee and his employer in respect of any matter relating to discrimination in employment, and the director-general may, pursuant to such decision, make an order.

It seems that what constitutes discrimination is based on the subjective understanding of the director general, employers and employees. It heavily depends on the director general’s discretion to mediate such issues that could end up in disagreement rather than an in-depth understanding of what constitutes a worker’s human dignity and how discrimination violates this principle.

The amendment lacks objectivity in meeting higher labour standards when it fails to spell out in reasonably broader terms what constitutes discrimination.

For example, would humiliating an employee in front of his or her colleagues to force a resignation be construed as discrimination? Are we addressing issues like violence and harassment at the workplace? What about transferring staff to another department without consent or demoting a staff without the appropriate reason and due cause? What about ethnic discrimination of wanting a certain race to work in a particular department.

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The issues mentioned above are real issues of discrimination in the Malaysian context that go to the very core of what it means to protect the dignity of the workforce and while ensuring that employers benefit from a fair and equitable ecosystem that nurtures human capital development.

Therefore, Acid urges the Ministry of Human Resources Ministry to create an objective criterion in the amendment of the Employment Act on discrimination that would create a preventive culture against discrimination, rather than a reactive culture of subjectivity that would depend on the continual interpretation of the courts on what constitutes discrimination. – Malaysiakini

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