It was close to midnight when the Dewan Rakyat passed the controversial amendments to the Employment Act.
The opponents claimed that the changes would expose contract workers to abuse.
Waves of protest did not deter the government from tabling the second reading of the Bill after having to postpone it twice in the past.
Critics claimed that the amendments were drawn up at the behest of multinational corporations and potential investors and deliberately designed to empower employers to employ workers on fixed-term contracts for as long as they wanted to.
The Malaysian Trades Unions Congress (MTUC) had highlighted the fact that once the amendments were passed, “employers would be permitted to impose unreasonable working hours, change weekly rest days as they please”, in effect requiring women workers to work at night.
During the debate on the Bill, MPs Abdullah Sani (PKR-Hulu Selangor) and Charles Santiago (DAP-Klang) argued that the changes would promote outsourcing and this was “illegal” as middlemen who subcontract work cannot be considered employers.
Santiago pointed out that if outsourcing companies were allowed to be employers, workers would not be able to claim benefits from the principal company and would have to pay out of their own pockets for medical care and other benefits.
Add to the workers’ woes
Meanwhile, Abdullah said the Bill would only add to the woes faced by the workers, who are already suffering from lack of sufficient or “efficient” protection against abuses.
“This change cannot and must not take place. If this Dewan Rakyat wants to protect workers then it must not allow the Bill to pass,” he added
He also said the changes were made after prior consultation with all “stakeholders” although unionists claimed that such meetings were mere political gimmicks.
The debate on the Amendment Bill raged on for five hours and was passed close to midnight.
In an immediate reaction, opposition leaders expressed disappointment over the manner in which the amendments were rushed through but vowed to fight through other means.