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The Case for A Fair Work Act, Part 4

Recap: our research series proposing a Fair Work Act comprises five pillars of employment, namely fair pay, fair working conditions, fair contracts, fair management and fair representation.

We kicked off this research series in Part 1 by presenting the case for updating Malaysia’s employment categories, in order to capture the evolving employment power dynamic between employers* and workers, particularly gig workers. In Part 2 we tackled the notion of fair pay, in which we argued for clearly defining the basis for the ‘minimum wage’, advocating for setting it based on the local ‘living’ wage accompanied with wage subsidy policies for selected employment categories. Part 3 was a broad overview of the large subject of fair working conditions, where we outlined key on-the-job benefits and off-the-job protections that should be in place.

*Note: The term ‘employer’ is used broadly throughout this piece, representing the party that either employs the worker or is the intermediary for the supply of jobs.

The fourth instalment of the research series will focus on the next pillar of Fair Work, fair contracts. This article attempts to answer two questions: firstly, what do fair contracts mean? And secondly, how would it apply to different employment categories?

What do ‘fair contracts’ cover?

Employment contracts are a fairly recent legal innovation; the first ones were developed around the late 1800s to early 1900s in England, precipitated by the Second Industrial Revolution. The master-servant employment relationships in the booming mining and manufacturing industries had led to various labour abuses, such as termination of work without compensation and unpaid work. To curb such exploitation, the government developed the judicial concept of labour contracts to serve two purposes: to recognise reciprocal obligations between employer and worker and to support delivery of the state welfare system.

Today, many countries including Malaysia have labour laws that make employment contracts mandatory for employees. A labour contract has become the legal agreement for defining the employment status of an employee (if not all workers), as well as the rights, benefits and responsibilities owed to them by employers and vice versa. The purpose of employment contracts is also spelled out in the ILO Convention on Employment Relationship Recommendation, which requires labour contracts to define employment relationships, standardise contractual arrangements for those in the same employment classification, and list out items relating to employment benefits and protection against labour exploitation and discrimination.

But what do fair contracts mean? According to the Fair Work Initiative, a fair employment contract is one that provides clear and transparent terms and conditions, with no unfair contract terms. Building on this broad description as well as the abovementioned ILO Convention, our proposed criteria of ‘fair contracts’ comprises the following three pillars.

Firstly, a fair contract should not contain terms that fall below or violate fair labour standards, which we discussed in Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of our research series. Secondly, the terms and conditions in the contract should be verifiably clear, transparent and understandable to workers. Thirdly, a fair employment contract should inform and seek the worker’s consent on the use of technologies and algorithms that impact the worker.

The following sections will cover current laws, current shortfalls and proposed measures to get closer to the ideal of fair contracts.

Current Malaysian laws on labour contracts

In Malaysia, employment contracts are governed differently for employees and contractors. The traditional employer-employee relationship is regulated mainly by the Employment Act 1955, accompanied by other relevant labour laws (see Figure 1). Labour contracts between contractors and their clients or employers are known as service contracts, or contracts for service, which fall under the purview of the Contract Act 1950.

For employees, the Employment Act 1955 obligates all employers and employees to establish a labour contract with terms and conditions that follow the labour standards stipulated in current labour laws*. These labour legislations set the minimum premise of employment contracts and draw legal boundaries with the aim of protecting employees from exploitative labour conditions.

*Note: Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of our Fair Work Act research series to learn more about minimum labour standards in existing labour laws.

Labour contracts for non-employees, i.e. contractors, are governed by the Contracts Act 1950, which defines the relationship between contractor and client-employer as a promisor-promisee relationship, and not an employer-employee relationship. Contractors are to negotiate the terms of their contract with their client-employers based on a willing seller willing buyer premise.

Key pieces of current legislation related directly to employment contracts are outlined in Figure 1 below.


Figure 1: Current Malaysian legislation relating to employment contracts

*Clauses on the right of representation in the EA 1955 and the Industrial Relations Act 1967 are identical. The EA 1955 directs readers/judges to the Industrial Relations Act 1967 for more detailed provisions relating to workers’ right of representation.

In case of dispute, employers and employees could settle their disagreements either at the Labour Court or the Industrial Court. Although the jurisdiction of the two courts appears to overlap with each other, each covers very different types of labour issues.

The Labour Court functions according to the Employment Act 1955 and addresses disputes relating to the monetary aspects of employment brought by manual workers of selected industries or employees who earn less than RM5,000 a month*. The Industrial Court is under the purview of the Industrial Relations Act 1967 and handles complaints regarding unfair dismissal, trade union matters and trade disputes brought in by any employee. Figure 2 below shows the differences between the Labour Court and the Industrial Court.

*The Employment (Amendment) Bill 2021 will remove the salary requirement of employees who can bring disputes before the Labour Court if passed.


Figure 2: Differences between Malaysia’s Labour Court and Industrial Court

Any contractual disputes involving contractors and their clients or employers need to be brought to the civil courts as contractors do not meet the criteria of ‘employee’ covered by the Labour Court or the Industrial Court. Civil court decisions would be made based on the terms and conditions written in their service contracts. Contractors seeking to bring any complaint to the Labour Court or the Industrial Court would need to get a referral from the Director-General of Labour or the Human Resources Minister respectively.

A former Grab driver attempted to seek the Human Resources Minister’s help to refer her case of alleged unfair dismissal to the Industrial Court but was denied. The terminated Grab driver subsequently took legal action to challenge the minister’s decision, whereupon the High Court ruled to dismiss the application citing that Grab drivers are not employees.


Addressing today’s shortfalls relating to fair contracts

Much like the topic of fair pay and fair working conditions, which we highlighted in previous instalments of this research series, rapid digital transformation and increasing labour informalisation have exposed gaps in the current legal framework with respect to fair employment contracts. We discuss the shortfalls and potential policy solutions below.

(1) A fair contract should not fall short of minimum labour standards

Today, Malaysian laws on labour contracts for employees do stipulate that terms cannot fall short or violate minimum labour standards contained in relevant Acts. As specified in the Employment Act 1955, in every agreement between an employer and employee, “the parties thereto shall be subject to, and shall be entitled to the benefits of, this Act”. The term ‘benefits’ comprise various provisions on termination of employment, payment of wages, maternity-related benefits, social security contributions and more.

The main issue here is whether the minimum labour standards prescribed by Malaysia’s labour laws today can be construed as ‘fair’. As argued in Parts 1, 2 and 3 of our research series, there are several shortcomings concerning pay and working conditions, rendering these labour standards as less than fair in our estimation. Apart from some major issues around threshold setting and exclusions, these shortfalls are also partially driven by a lack of appropriate employment categorisation for certain types of workers in the informal sector, such as full-time gig platform workers.

Compared to employees though, independent contractors have even fewer safeguards in their contracts for service with regard to ensuring minimum labour standards. There is currently no legal provision that stipulates adherence to minimum labour standards in contracts for service. The Contract Act 1950 only states that a contract is a legal proposal made by either of the parties involved to recognise their legal relationship and promises, where acceptance of the legal proposal must be done with sound minds, consideration, certainty and free will.

Policy recommendations

To deliver on fair labour contracts, the minimum labour standards presumed in the contracts also need to be ‘fair’. Our earlier instalments of this research series have covered what fair standards could look like for classification, pay and working conditions. Current labour laws, in particular the Employment Act 1955, would need to be revised to spell out, amongst others, minimum fair pay and minimum fair working conditions for different employment categories.

To ensure fair contracts for independent contractors, the government could consider a supplementary bill to make it mandatory that contracts for service contain or adhere to minimum labour standards for contractors. The Freelance Workers Protection Act in the Philippines is an example, requiring freelancers and their client-employers to establish a written contract detailing itemization of all services provided by freelancers, tenure of work, rate and method of compensation, payment deadline, grounds for termination and other terms and benefits imposed by the government.

(2) A contract should be verifiably clear, transparent and understandable to workers

The signing of an employment contract does not necessarily mean full understanding of the employment contract by the worker. Even for workers with a degree, the legalese language in employment contracts can be difficult to understand. Some employees may be informed about their rights and benefits during onboarding, but not all companies have structured onboarding processes. Even companies with onboarding processes may not fully brief the employee on all terms of the employment contract, nor check for the employee’s full comprehension of the terms.

For non-employees, there is no stipulation mandating them to have a written contract for service with their client-employers. As such, some in the informal sector may only have verbal agreements, and terms can be altered easily and unilaterally by client-employers without consent. Even non-employees with a written contract for service may not fully comprehend all the terms, unless they hire a lawyer to craft, explain and or even negotiate on their behalf.

Policy recommendations

The Employment Act 1955 requires employers and employees to establish a written contract, while non-employees are free to form a written contract under the Contract Act 1950 with their client-employer if they prefer. In principle and in policy, written labour contracts should be made mandatory for most workers, whether employee or contractor.

Some informal jobs are only one-off or comprise piecemeal work, in which having a contract could overcomplicate the employment relationship and incur extra labour costs for contract drafting. To avoid this, the government could set minimum criteria where those earning above a specific income level per job must establish a written labour contract.

In the Philippines, for example, the Freelance Workers Protection Act only requires freelancers to establish a written contract for services that have a minimum value of 10,000PHP. In New York City, only freelancers who provide a service worth USD800 upwards are mandated to form a written contract with their client-employer under the Freelance Isn’t Free Act.

At any rate, there is no requirement in any Malaysian law which stipulate for labour contracts to be written in concise and clear language. Irrespective of employment classification, laws should require that all labour contracts be written in plain language understandable to both workers and employers. Example can be taken from the United States which introduced the Plain Writing Act 2010, propelled by the Plain Language Movement, to ensure writing in all government documents is clear, concise, and well organised for its intended audience. Replacing a contract full of confusing legalese with a plain language contract could ensure fuller understanding of labour contracts, regardless of who the parties’ educational or socioeconomic background.

Plain language contracts are increasingly popular globally, especially in corporate settings. Interestingly, some employers in Australia and South Africa have even adopted comic format contracts to ensure labour contracts are understandable to all workers, especially for those who are illiterate. To facilitate the drafting of plain language contracts, the government could provide contract guidelines as provided by Australia’s Fair Work Ombudsman and Hong Kong’s Labour Department.

The worker’s understanding of the contract terms should also be verifiable, namely, that there are simple ways to check and confirm the worker’s comprehension and acceptance. Be it paper or electronic labour contract, workers could indicate and affirm their understanding of the terms (written in plain language) by, for example, signing each section of the contract. Explanation and clarification of labour contracts should not only be done when onboarding new workers but also when there are any ad-hoc contractual changes which could affect their employment entitlements and work expectations.

(3) A contract should inform and seek worker’s consent on the use of technologies

Given the rapid digitalisation of work and rising remote working culture, the use of staff monitoring software is an increasing norm at work, especially among gig platform workers. The algorithm embedded in these technologies has taken over previously manual roles to allocate tasks, monitor, evaluate and reward work based on data gathered from worker behaviours (i.e. consumer reviews, time efficiency) and broad contextual factors (i.e. weather and seasonal patterns).

To clarify, the application of algorithms or monitoring software is not objectively wrong. But in practice, workers could be in the dark as to how the algorithms impact them, for example in how jobs are allocated or prioritised. With employers protecting algorithm design as trade secrets, workers may be faced with no option but to accept the application of such technologies without full comprehension.

The problem here is the lack of meaningful consent for the use of technologies, especially if it involves data collection and sharing. The worker would neither know nor be given the choice to decide whether they willingly agree to how their data is collected, stored, processed and used.

Policy recommendations

It is high time to rethink the workers’ consent in the use of technologies at work in ways that can be more meaningful than a rubber stamp which they cannot negotiate or opt-out.

Whether the worker is an employee, a dependent contractor or an independent contractor, employers should seek individual-level consent from workers for accessing their digital and data rights. At the minimum, workers should be informed about how technological applications related to labour practices could impact them with clear and understandable terms listed in their labour contracts. Beyond that, the government could consider requiring employers to seek collective consent* from workers to enable them to determine the access, ownership and usage of their data.

*More on this topic in the instalment of our research series on fair management and fair representation.

The world may be moving from a state of pandemic to endemic COVID-19, but remote working is here to stay. With that is rising concern for employee monitoring, including the application of activity monitoring software for productivity tracking and the lack of remote working protocols.

There is a fine line between monitoring and surveillance. Some of the monitoring tools used track workers’ micro-behaviours such as internet activities and keystroke movements. These technologies bring up serious questions on the extent of permissible surveillance, privacy and wellbeing. As yet, workers do not have much say in deciding or consenting to the application of such monitoring technologies.

If passed, the Employment (Amendment) Bill 2021 tabled by the government will include clauses on employer responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of employees in work-from-home settings. While this is a positive step, for better transparency on privacy rights, the information and consent on such technologies should also be incorporated in labour contracts.

Putting fair contracts into practice

It has been more than two centuries since the judicial concept of labour contracts was conceived, and its purposes have remained largely unchanged. But while labour contracts play an important role in recognising employer-worker relationships and supporting the delivery of the state welfare system, the job market has evolved drastically with increasing labour informalisation driven by rapid digitalisation.

In adapting to the changing world of work, we not only need to ensure that fair labour standards are presumed within labour contracts, but that the contracts themselves are presented in an understandable way to all workers, with contract acceptance indicating meaningful and informed consent.

That said, we keep in mind that having a fair contract does not guarantee that terms and conditions would be translated into fair labour practices for all workers. In reality, putting fair contracts into practice would also require fair management practices and fair representation to ensure fair labour practices. We discuss these topics in the next and final instalment of this research series.

Email us your views or suggestions at editorial@centre.my

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Indebted Generation, Part 3

In Part 1 of this research series, we outlined the quandary of student debt in Malaysia. As public universities were being corporatised and private universities expanding, student loans were introduced to finance higher education costs thereby rapidly increasing the number of graduates. Since the establishment of Malaysia’s primary student loan institution PTPTN in 1997, RM62.5 billion in student loans have been issued to 3.5 million borrowers. These quantums would be tolerable if it was accompanied by broadly positive returns to higher education; however, upward social mobility has not been evenly realised.

In Part 2, we advocated three bold policies to address issues related to current outstanding student debt: targeted partial debt cancellation, income-based repayment, and greater oversight on the workings and financing of PTPTN. Segmenting existing borrowers by their capacity to repay is a key pillar of these recommendations.

In this third instalment, we propose  ideas for reforming the way Malaysians finance their higher education. A crucial part of this discussion is to recognise the changing face of higher education itself which is diversifying from traditional degrees. Another key part of reform is the required changes in institutional structures, or how to organise education financing anew. The final part of our reform ideas is providing fairer education financing measures for households in need rather than broadly relying on student loans.

In previous articles, we noted media reports of young Malaysians getting stuck in low-waged jobs after having accumulated significant student debt to fund their higher education. This is consistent with a survey we conducted from August to September 2021. A third of respondents said their education was not worth the student debt incurred. 59% said student loans contributed to financial stress while 57% said the loans contributed to a delay in purchasing a home. 77% of respondents either somewhat agree or strongly agree that youth should not need to get into debt to attain higher education, and an even bigger majority, 82%, said the poor should not have to do so.

The burden of student loans received some attention in Budget 2022 where discounts for student loan repayments were announced. While it is a positive sign that the government is paying attention to student loan issues, the discounts offered are mainly for borrowers with the means to make large loan settlements or for borrowers that can afford scheduled deductions – in short, benefiting higher income borrowers rather than the less privileged. The discounts – which is a repeat of a past Budget announcement – are a reflection of longstanding policy thinking on student loans and higher education that is ripe for real change.

From traditional degrees to TVET and microcredentials

A key consideration in our recommendations is the increasing shift away from degree programs. In America and the UK, students and parents are now questioning the traditional college or university education and whether the cost of attending is worth it anymore. The COVID-19 pandemic may have only accelerated this trend, leading to a dramatic decline in enrolment recently.

Malaysia will gradually reach the same conclusion. COVID-19 aggravated, but did not cause, the long-running trend of graduate unemployment and graduate low pay. Graduate unemployment rose 22.5% last year to 202,400 in 2020 from 165,200 in 2019 and appears to be on an upward trend in at least the last four years; graduate unemployment stood at 162,000 in 2018, up from 154,900 in 2017. It also disproportionately affects Bumiputera graduates who have the highest rate of unemployment.

On top of the graduate unemployment rate, fresh graduates are earning wages as low as RM1,000-1,500 a month. Compare these outcomes to the time and financial commitments of a degree program which typically takes at least four years to complete. A diploma program is not much shorter, taking about 24-36 months to complete and longer still if done on a part-time basis.

Given these trade-offs, policymakers should reconsider Malaysia’s decades-old narrative favouring traditional academic degrees. The pursuit of knowledge via a degree is a commendable goal in itself, but are traditional degrees the right choice for all school leavers? As developed countries have learned or are learning, the answer is no. Many school leavers could be better off – and save substantially – by enrolling in technical training, ‘learning on the job’ apprenticeships, lifelong short-term courses or some combination of all these.

Apart from financial considerations, the shift away from degrees is also driven by the changing face of work. School leavers today can opt to build up their portfolio for freelance work rather than enrol in college to burnish their resumes for full-time jobs.

Malaysian educational policy observers have long envied the importance of Technical and Vocational Education & Training (TVET) in countries like Sweden and Germany, where the TVET system trains for a wide range of occupational fields and livelihoods. The employment rate for those with vocational degrees in these countries are nearly as high as bachelor’s degree holders.

Employability for TVET graduates is also high in Malaysia, reaching 98% employability in the past few years, which is a clearly better performance than their degree-holding counterparts. Last year, TVET Division director Azman Adnan of the Ministry of Higher Education said that vocational colleges are the country’s largest provider of skilled workers and that TVET is a solution to the skills mismatch and unemployment issues.

TVET is cheaper, shorter, and closer to industry needs. And yet, the policy focus and resource allocation on TVET has yet to catch up to levels received by the traditional degree system.

There is some improvement. In the 12th Malaysia Plan, the government plans to strengthen TVET by upgrading the industry ecosystem, improving accreditation, creating a TVET institution rating system, and promoting a centralised platform showing data on job offerings. Under the 2021 Budget, the government had allocated RM60million for the Sistem Latihan Dual Nasional (SLDN), a competency-based, industry-oriented training scheme. The SLDN allowance was also increased from RM600 to RM1,000 to encourage more participants from B40 households to enroll. Reflecting the government’s growing priority, overall allocation for TVET has also grown from RM6 billion in the 2021 Budget to RM6.6 billion in the 2022 Budget.

But much more needs to be done. The 2019 Auditor General’s report found that government-funded TVET programs as a whole fell short of 11th Malaysia Plan targets, producing only half the number of projected graduates. Enrolment has been on a downward trend from 2016 to 2020, though COVID-19 was definitely a contributing factor since many TVET programs require face-to-face training.

The fragmentation of government-funded TVET across six ministries has been well documented and the need for better coordination has been acknowledged by both Pakatan Harapan and Perikatan Nasional governments. Beyond ‘coordination’ though, a major overhaul in governance, policy planning and quality assurance has yet to be implemented though the need for it has been raised multiple times, including by MP Nurul Izzah Anwar who served as chairperson of the TVET Empowerment Committee.

To accord as much importance to TVET as to traditional academic education requires a structural overhaul. In Singapore and Vietnam, a single entity oversees the respective countries’ TVET system. In the case of Vietnam, there is even a law specifically on vocational education, enabling the Vietnamese government to invest substantially on TVET as well as promoting private sector participation through incentives on land, taxation, credit, and training of educators.

Despite having a much smaller population and only eight TVET institutions, Singapore has over 113,000 TVET student enrollment, a figure comparable to the total enrolment in Malaysia’s polytechnics and community colleges. This is consistent with a survey by KRI which found that less than 10% of youth in post-secondary education are enrolled in TVET polytechnics (excluding skills training centers).

Apart from TVET, we should also give more emphasis and resources to short-term reskilling and upskilling courses including so-called microcredentials. Compared to traditional degrees and TVET certificates, microcredentials are shorter, more flexible with respect to attendance, and tend to be more narrowly focused on specific skills or topics. They can be offered online, in the classroom, or via a hybrid of both.

In Malaysia, the policy narrative around skills development and microcredentials has been mainly targeted towards working adults and funding is tied to the promoting agency such as the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF), the Employment Insurance Scheme under SOCSO, and the Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) amongst others. But as with TVET, the policy narrative for skills development and microcredentials should also extend to school leavers.

Not every school leaver is certain in what they want to study or what career they’d like to pursue. Microcredentials offer an opportunity to test things out before large time and financial commitments for further studies are made, if at all. And here, support means not only access to courses. Singapore’s SGUnited Skills program, for example, not only offers access to a wide range of subsidised short training courses for in-demand and emerging skills, it also offers career advisory support and monthly training allowance of SGD1,200 over the course duration to help cover basic living expenses.

In this section, we have argued for a policy shift away from favouring academic degree programs to more support and promotion of TVET and short skill development courses or microcredentials amongst school leavers. We maintain that student loan indebtedness amongst young people was driven in part by the decades-long assumption of status and positive returns from having a degree. This assumption needs to be re-examined, not only by policymakers but also by employers. Young jobseekers today are confronted with degree inflation, or the demand for bachelor’s degrees in jobs that don’t truly require one. A policy shift towards TVET and skills development would also need to be accompanied by efforts to update and re-educate employers on setting more relevant qualifying criteria.

From loans to direct subsidies for B40 students

Increasingly, the government is shifting from student loans towards encouraging early savings as a means to fund one’s higher education, which is a good step. However, the policy incentives to encourage savings will likely be taken up more by middle-to-higher income families who can set aside money for this purpose. What about households who can’t?

We need to move away from asking B40 families to rely on student loans and consider direct educational subsidies. Firstly, the burden of student debt appears to impact B40 borrowers disproportionately. PTPTN chairman, using PTPTN’s own records, wrote that 55% of all borrowers come from B40 households but that 97% of loan defaulters are from the B40 income group.

Secondly, as we outlined in Part 1, the government and taxpayers are already paying for a significant proportion of PTPTN borrowers’ education by paying the interest rate gap between PTPTN’s subsidised rate to their borrowers and the market rate PTPTN is charged by institutional lenders. It makes more sense to do away with this rather roundabout approach of subsidising a person’s education – replacing interest subsidies paid to financial institutions in favour of an outright tuition subsidy and cost of living stipend for B40 school leavers. It would also be beneficial for the loan administrator (i.e. PTPTN) as it provides some relief from managing a chunk of borrowers most likely to default on repayments.

How much will this cost? Our rough estimate puts the direct subsidy cost at 1.3-2 times more than the current regime of subsidising student loans and covering default rates, conservatively assuming that all the courses financed are for degree programs and with a relatively high ratio of IPTS students. The cost multiple for direct subsidies could be lower with a scheme that supports primarily IPTA students as well as a shift away from traditional degrees in favour of diplomas, TVET and microcredentials.

Gratuidad is an income-targeted free tuition program implemented in Chile. This policy was enacted after years of student protests against escalating fees and student debt. Gratuidad provides free tuition to students from the bottom 60% of households. The tuition subsidy is determined by a formula that divides institutions into categories according to the length of their accreditation term (a proxy for quality) and then sets the regulated tuition for each group and each study program.

Tuition fee subsidies and living cost stipends for B40 students need not come only from the government and taxpayers; corporations, private foundations and high net worth individuals could also be incentivised to contribute and supplement these direct subsidies. In the next section, we propose the final component of our education financing reform proposal to make education contributions simpler and part of the Malaysian social fabric.

From disconnected schemes to individual lifelong education accounts

Today, one could save for their education via SSPN-i; apply for a loan from PTPTN or PTPK; contribute to HRDF, EPF (Account 2), or EIS;  or track down different agencies’ offerings and take subsidised courses from for example MDEC, MARA, TEKUN and many others.

What if there was a better way to fund one’s post secondary education all the way to old age? One that accommodates early savings by parents as well as direct subsidies by the government and contributions or scholarships from future employers or benefactors? One that ties the funds to each Malaysian individually rather than with training agencies?

Tying together the two proposals above, we propose lifelong education accounts (LEA) for each Malaysian that are managed as an investment fund similar to the EPF. The accounts are only to be used for educational purposes, including cost of living stipends. The funds are automatically set up at birth, and each Malaysia-born child will receive RM100 credited to their LEA upon birth registration. Children born in B40 households could be credited with higher amounts depending on the level of household income.

This account will be the primary vehicle for voluntary savings schemes incentivised by the government for the child’s future educational expenses, combining features of ADAM50 and SSPN today. This account will also be the primary deposit vehicle for any future direct subsidies by the government to incentivise working age reskilling, much like Singapore’s SkillsFuture program. The account may also accept transfers from EPF Account 2 as well as deposits by government agencies, private foundations, benefactors, or future employers to support post-secondary education, be it loans or scholarships for degrees, diplomas, TVET, microcredentials, apprenticeships and other forms of learning or upskilling in future.

PTPTN could be best positioned to administer this fund given that they are already managing SSPN and are the entity in charge of promoting education savings. However, PTPTN has to be re-structured to improve its governance and expand its mandate. Appointment into PTPTN’s board should be as stringent as appointment into EPF’s board to ensure a qualified, competent and autonomous board. For greater streamlining, the Skills Development Fund Corporation (Perbadanan Tabung Pembangunan Kemahiran, or PTPK) and the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) could eventually be merged with PTPTN to create a focused superfund managing finances for lifelong education.

Thus far, the Malaysian government has introduced tax relief for employers (until 31 December 2021) who help pay off their employees’ student loans. If Malaysians had individual lifelong education accounts, such incentives could also be offered to individuals and companies that contribute into the account.

Conclusion

Paying for higher education is a substantial financial decision. To reduce inequalities, we first need to acknowledge that this decision is riskier for less privileged segments of the population. Our three-part series have demonstrated the mixed consequences of the current policy of relying on student loans to pay for higher education. While loans do increase access, it traps many graduates in debt – particularly those from the B40 households – with uncertain prospects of high wages.

With this backdrop in mind, we advocate for direct tuition subsidies and living cost stipends for B40 school leavers. We should also recognise that traditional degree programs, which tend to be lengthy and expensive, are not a surefire path to social mobility. An under-emphasised alternative is TVET, which should receive greater focus, support and promotion. Short skill development courses or microcredentials should also be encouraged, not only amongst working adults but also amongst school leavers.

To reduce dependency on student loans and to habituate Malaysians en masse towards educational savings and contributions, we also propose lifelong education accounts (LEA) automatically set up at birth for each Malaysian. This automatic enrolment account (opt-out rather than opt-in) will be the primary vehicle for voluntary savings schemes incentivised by the government, as well as any cash or voucher incentives for educational purposes.

To be clear, we are not questioning the worth of higher education. But we must reconsider how we define higher education and how we fund that learning. Moving forward, we ought to design policies to increase access to quality education (knowledge, skills, and technical training), especially those who have the least, without nudging them to incur burdensome debts.

The policy designs described here are by no means exhaustive, but they offer an example of how access to higher education can be made more future-oriented, far-sighted and less expensive. As Covid-19 disruptions bring a sense of urgency to address inequities, there appears to be a real policy window to advocate for better education policies, especially for those in low-income families. In our view, this is best served by rethinking the entire edifice of student loans and the narrative of the traditional university degree. We envision a future of diverse (and cheaper) educational pursuits, a culture of investing in continual learning, with greater assistance to those who need it most.

Email us your views or suggestions at editorial@centre.my.

Setahun Bersama COVID-19

Nota: Artikel ini adalah terjemahan bagi artikel kami dalam Bahasa Inggeris yang diterbitkan pada 4 Mac 2021.

Sejak bermulanya pandemik COVID-19, kehidupan ramai rakyat Malaysia telah amat berubah. Ribuan telah merasai kesan langsung akibat jangkitan COVID-19. Jutaan lagi ditimpa masalah kesihatan mental dan fizikal. 

Tahun lepas, kami telah menyelidik tentang bagaimana pandemik dan PKP yang pertama telah memberi kesan terhadap kesihatan mental rakyat Malaysia. Kami mendapati bahawa lebih separuh daripada mereka yang ditinjau telah mengalami kesan negatif dari segi kesihatan mental mereka. Apakah keadaan ini telah berubah, hampir setahun sejak tinjauan tersebut? Untuk menjawab persoalan ini, kami telah ulangi kajian tahun lepas dan meluaskan ruang lingkupnya untuk merangkumi soalan berkaitan kesejahteraan fizikal dan kewangan.  

Dalam Bahagian 1 bagi siri kajian ini, kami kemukakan dapatan tentang bagaimana pandemik ini telah memberi kesan kepada kesejahteraan mental dan fizikal bagi rakyat Malaysia secara keseluruhan. Bahagian 2 pula akan mengongsikan dapatan berkaitan kesan  daripada keadaan hidup serta aturan kerja dari rumah, manakala Bahagian 3 pula akan membincangkan penemuan berkenaan kesejahteraan dari sudut kewangan.

Tentang Kajian Ini 

Kajian ini telah dilaksanakan melalui suatu survei dalam talian yang telah diedarkan melalui kaedah pensampelan bola salji (snowball sampling) antara 4 Februari sehingga 14 Februari 2021. Survei tersebut telah diedarkan dalam Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Inggeris, dan Bahasa Mandarin. 

Memandangkan kaedah pensampelan bola salji telah digunakan, dapatan bagi kajian ini tidaklah mewakili suatu sampel berstrata nasional (nationally stratified sample). Oleh yang demikian, kami menasihatkan para pembaca agar mentafsir hasil kajian ini dengan had yang sewajarnya. Sepertimana kajian tahun lepas, soal selidik DASS-21 telah digunakan bagi mengukur kesejahteraan mental, khususnya berkenaan kehadiran dan keterukan kemurungan, kegelisahan, dan tekanan. 

Soal selidik DASS-21 (ringkasan daripada soal selidik asal yang mempunyai 42 soalan) telah dirangka oleh para penyelidik di University of New South Wales di Australia. Soal selidik ini mengukur kesejahteraan mental berdasarkan penilaian kendiri oleh para responden terhadap keadaan mental mereka.

Kemurungan adalah dinilai melalui laporan kendiri terhadap tahap am bagi ketidakpuasan, perasaan tiada harapan, dan kekurangan rasa minat. Kegelisahan pula dipastikan melalui laporan kendiri terhadap tahap reaksi kepada keadaan fizikal dan pengalaman rasa gelisah secara am. Tekanan pula diukur melalui laporan kendiri terhadap tahap kesukaran untuk berehat, rasa gementar, kehilangan rasa sabar, dan tindak balas yang melampau. 

*Jadual bagi soal selidik DASS-21 yang digunakan dalam kajian kami: https://forms.gle/cTryAn9sx6gvh63U8

Soal selidik DASS-21 tidak bertujuan untuk mendiagnosis kemurungan, kegelisahan atau tekanan sebagai masalah perubatan. Penilaian hasil daripada soal selidik DASS-21 boleh digunakan oleh mereka yang bukan merupakan pakar psikologi bagi kajian yang terhad, namun sebarang keputusan klinikal berdasarkan kepada skor soal selidik ini hanya boleh dibuat oleh pakar yang berpengalaman, besertakan pemeriksaan kesihatan yang sewajarnya. 

Skor daripada soal selidik DASS-21 boleh dikelaskan kepada tahap keterukan yang berjulat daripada normal, ringan, sederhana, teruk hinggalah ke tahap amat teruk (lihat Rajah 1 berikut).

Rajah 1: Skala DASS-21 

Sumber: PsyToolkit

936 respons telah dikumpul semasa kajian ini, yang mana 2 telah ditolak akibat respons yang berulang, menjadikan jumlah sampel kajian sebanyak 934 respons.

52% daripada para responden terdiri daripada golongan wanita, yang menunjukkan imbangan jantina yang baik. 50% daripada responden adalah di bawah umur 35 tahun. Dari sudut kaum, sebanyak 76% daripada responden adalah Melayu / Bumiputera. Dari segi geografi, sebanyak 74% daripada responden adalah dari negeri-negeri Tengah Semenanjung, yang mengakibatkan hasil kajian ini sedikit miring ke arah keadaan mereka yang hidup di kawasan bandar. 

Rajah 2: Demografi Responden

Kesejahteraan Mental Secara Keseluruhan

NOTA PENTING: Respons terhadap soal selidik DASS-21 mengukur keamatan bagi perasaan murung, gelisah dan tertekan secara am, sebagaimana yang dilaporkan oleh para responden. Kajian ini tidak bertujuan untuk mendapatkan sebarang penemuan atau diagnosis bagi keadaan kesihatan seseorang. Sebarang taksiran klinikal bagi tahap kesihatan mental atau penyakit jiwa haruslah dilakukan oleh seorang profesional yang berkelayakan. 

Kajian ini dimulakan dengan tinjauan terhadap keadaan kesejahteraan mental yang dilaporkan secara kendiri oleh para responden melalui soal selidik DASS-21. Sepertimana yang dipaparkan dalam Rajah 3, tahap kemurungan dan kegelisahan adalah jelas lebih tinggi secara keseluruhan berbanding dengan tahap tekanan.

58% daripada para responden melaporkan bahawa mereka mengalami kemurungan, dengan 26% pada tahap teruk dan amat teruk. 56% daripada para responden pula melaporkan kegelisahan, dengan 31% melaporkan tahap kegelisahan yang teruk dan amat teruk, iaitu tahap yang tertinggi di antara tiga emosi yang dikaji. Skor terendah dicatat bagi insiden responden yang mengalami tekanan. 42% mengalami tekanan, dengan 19% melaporkan tahap tekanan yang teruk dan amat teruk.

Rajah 3: Skor Keseluruhan bagi Kemurungan, Kegelisahan dan Tekanan

Perbandingan langsung dengan kajian kami pada tahun lepas menunjukkan bahawa skor bagi tahap kemurungan, kegelisahan dan tekanan telah meningkat pada tahun ini (lihat Rajah 4 di bawah). 58% daripada responden melaporkan rasa kemurungan pada tahun ini, berbanding dengan 48% responden pada tahun lepas. 56% responden pula melaporkan rasa gelisah pada tahun ini, berbanding dengan 45% responden pada tahun lepas. Dalam kategori perasaan tertekan, 42% responden melaporkan berasa sedemikian berbanding 34% pada tahun lepas. Rasa kemurungan, kegelisahan dan tekanan yang ‘teruk’ dan ‘amat teruk’ juga meningkat dengan mendadak berbanding pada tahun lepas. 

Rajah 4: Perbandingan Skor DASS-21, 2021 berbanding 2020

Perbandingan di atas perlulah dibaca dengan berhati-hati, memandangkan komposisi sampel bagi kajian tahun ini adalah sedikit berbeza berbanding sampel tahun lepas, sepertimana yang lazim bagi kaedah pensampelan bola salji. Walau bagaimanapun, sungguhpun kajian ini bukanlah suatu kajian membujur (longitudinal study), perbandingan yang telah dibuat menunjukkan bahawa terdapat kemungkinan yang tinggi bahawa kesejahteraan mental secara keseluruhannya telah merosot di kalangan awam sejak tahun lepas.

Nota: Jumlah responden dalam kajian tahun lepas adalah seramai 1,084 orang, berbanding 934 responden pada tahun ini. Sampel bagi kajian ini mempunyai jumlah responden wanita yang sedikit berkurang, iaitu 52% berbanding dengan 66% dalam kajian tahun lepas, dan juga jumlah golongan Melayu / Bumiputera yang juga sedikit rendah, iaitu 76% berbanding dengan 81% pada tahun lepas.

Di samping soal selidik DASS-21, kami juga telah bertanya kepada para responden tentang tanggapan mereka terhadap kesejahteraan mental mereka berbanding tahun lepas. Suatu jumlah yang ketara, iaitu seramai 43%, telah melaporkan tiada perubahan bagi tahap kesejahteraan mental mereka, tetapi pada masa yang sama, suatu jumlah yang agak sama, iaitu 42%, telah merasakan bahawa tahap kesejahteraan mental mereka telah merosot. Hanya 15% yang menjawab bahawa kesejahteraan mental mereka telah bertambah baik berbanding tahun lepas.

Rajah 5: Tanggapan Kendiri Para Responden Terhadap Kesejahteraan Mental Berbanding Pada Tahun Lepas 

Kami mendapati bahawa tanggapan kendiri para responden terhadap perubahan dari segi kesihatan mental adalah berkait rapat dengan skor DASS-21 masing-masing. Sepertimana yang ditunjukkan dalam Rajah 6 di bawah, kadar kejadian dan keterukan bagi tahap kemurungan, kegelisahan dan tekanan adalah jauh lebih tinggi bagi golongan responden yang merasakan bahawa tahap kesejahteraan mental mereka telah merosot, berbanding dengan para responden yang merasakan bahawa tahap kesejahteraan mental mereka telah meningkat, ataupun tidak berubah dalam masa setahun yang lalu. 

Rajah 6: Kesejahteraan Mental dan Hubungan dengan Skor DASS-21

Suatu perkara yang menarik untuk diperhatikan adalah tahap kemurungan, kegelisahan dan tekanan yang dialami oleh mereka yang melaporkan bahawa kesejahteraan mental mereka ‘meningkat’ atau ‘tidak berubah’ sejak tahun lepas. 39% daripada para responden tersebut melaporkan rasa kemurungan, 39-47% merasakan kegelisahan, dan 22-23% melaporkan perasaan tertekan. Ini menunjukkan bahawa bagi mereka yang merasa bahawa kesejahteraan mental mereka lebih baik bagi tahun lepas, perasaan murung, gelisah dan tertekan masih wujud. Suatu kajian membujur adalah perlu bagi mengkaji sama ada ini merupakan kesan daripada pandemik yang kini melanda dunia, ataupun sekadar suatu tahap yang lazim bagi kesejahteraan mental di kalangan rakyat Malaysia.

Perbezaan Demografi 

Perbezaan yang agak ketara dapat dilihat bagi kesihatan mental untuk golongan demografi yang berbeza. Satu perbezaan yang jelas adalah dalam kategori jantina; lebih ramai wanita berbanding lelaki yang melaporkan tahap kesihatan mental yang negatif. Satu lagi perbezaan demografi yang jelas adalah dalam kategori umur. Mereka yang berada dalam golongan muda, iaitu umur di antara 18 hingga 34, telah melaporkan tahap kesejahteraan mental yang lebih teruk berbanding dengan mereka yang lebih berumur.

Jantina

Rajah 7 menunjukkan perbezaan dari segi jantina bagi tahap kemurungan, kegelisahan, dan tekanan. Dalam hal ini, golongan wanita dilihat mengalami tahap kesejahteraan mental yang agak teruk apabila dibandingkan dengan golongan lelaki. 

Rajah 7: Perbezaan dalam Kesejahteraan Mental Mengikut Jantina

Lebih ramai wanita, iaitu 64% daripada jumlah responden, yang melaporkan rasa kemurungan berbanding hanya 52% daripada golongan lelaki. Dari segi keterukan, 32% daripada golongan wanita melaporkan rasa murung yang teruk atau amat teruk, berbanding hanya 20% daripada golongan responden lelaki. 

Begitu juga bagi aspek kegelisahan, di mana 61% daripada responden wanita telah melaporkan rasa gelisah berbanding hanya 50% daripada golongan lelaki. Dari sudut keterukan, 37% daripada responden wanita telah melaporkan kegelisahan yang teruk atau amat teruk, berbanding 24% daripada golongan lelaki.

Dari segi rasa tertekan, 50% daripada responden wanita telah melaporkan rasa tertekan berbanding 34% daripada responden lelaki. Dari aspek keterukan, 22% daripada golongan wanita telah mencatatkan tahap tekanan yang teruk dan amat teruk, berbanding hanya 15% daripada responden lelaki. 

Terdapat juga perbezaan dari sudut jantina dalam laporan kendiri berhubung tahap kesihatan mental bagi tahun ini berbanding tahun lepas. Sepertimana yang dipaparkan dalam Rajah 8 di bawah, 45% daripada responden wanita telah melaporkan perasaan bahawa tahap kesihatan mental mereka telah merosot, berbanding dengan 39% di kalangan lelaki. Bagaimanapun, lebih sedikit golongan wanita yang telah melaporkan tahap kesejahteraan mental yang lebih baik berbanding tahun lepas, sedangkan cuma 13% daripada golongan lelaki yang melaporkan perkara yang sama.

Rajah 8: Perbezaan dalam Tanggapan Kendiri bagi Kesejahteraan Mental Berbanding Tahun Lepas, Mengikut Jantina

Umur

Golongan yang lebih muda telah melaporkan tahap emosi negatif yang lebih tinggi berbanding golongan yang lebih berumur. Sepertimana yang dapat dilihat dalam Rajah 9a, suatu jumlah yang amat tinggi, iaitu 70% hingga 72% daripada responden di bawah umur 35 tahun, telah melaporkan rasa murung, berbanding 28% hingga 49% bagi mereka yang berumur lebih daripada 35 tahun. Dari segi keterukan, mereka yang berada dalam golongan di bawah umur 35 tahun telah melaporkan tahap kemurungan yang teruk atau lebih teruk pada kadar dua hingga tiga kali ganda berbanding mereka yang berumur 35 tahun ke atas. Di sini perbezaan di antara generasi adalah amat ketara: sejumlah 40% daripada para responden dalam kelompok umur 18 hingga 24 tahun telah melaporkan tahap kemurungan yang teruk atau amat teruk, berbanding cuma 9% di kalangan responden yang berumur 55 tahun ke atas. 

Rajah 9a: Perbezaan dalam Tahap Kemurungan yang Dilaporkan Mengikut Kelompok Umur

Rajah 9b menunjukkan tahap perbezaan yang serupa bagi kegelisahan, di mana 66% hingga 70% daripada responden yang berumur di bawah 35 tahun telah melaporkan rasa gelisah, berbanding 34% hingga 48% bagi mereka yang lebih berumur.  Dari sudut keterukan, responden di bawah umur 35 tahun melaporkan tahap kegelisahan yang membimbangkan, di mana 40% hingga 49% daripada mereka melaporkan rasa gelisah yang teruk atau amat teruk, yang merupakan dua hingga empat kali ganda lebih tinggi berbanding mereka yang berumur 35 tahun ke atas.

Rajah 9b: Perbezaan bagi Tahap Kegelisahan yang Dilaporkan Mengikut Kelompok Umur

Corak ini dapat dilihat sekali lagi dalam kategori tekanan, di mana 56% hingga 61% daripada responden yang berumur di bawah 35 tahun telah melaporkan tahap tekanan yang merupakan dua hingga tiga kali ganda berbanding tahap tekanan bagi mereka yang lebih berumur. Dari segi keterukan, sekali lagi dapat dilihat bahawa 25% hingga 31% daripada para responden yang berada dalam kelompok umur di bawah 35 tahun melaporkan tahap tekanan yang teruk atau amat teruk, berbanding hanya 8% hingga 13% bagi mereka yang berada dalam kelompok umur 35 tahun ke atas.

Rajah 9c: Perbezaan dalam Tahap Tekanan yang Dilaporkan Mengikut Kelompok Umur

Perbezaan dari segi umur ini juga dapat dilihat dalam laporan kendiri bagi keadaan mental bagi para responden untuk tahun ini berbanding tahun lepas. 51% hingga 55% daripada para responden yang berumur di bawah 35 tahun telah melaporkan tahap kesejahteraan mental yang lebih teruk berbanding 22% hingga 37% bagi mereka yang berumur 35 tahun ke atas. Kelompok umur yang lebih tua, khususnya mereka yang berumur 45 tahun ke atas, didapati dapat menyesuaikan diri dengan agak baik, di mana 73% hingga 78% daripada mereka melaporkan tiada perubahan ataupun peningkatan dalam tahap kesihatan mental mereka.

Rajah 10: Perbezaan dalam Tanggapan Diri bagi Kesejahteraan Mental berbanding Tahun Lepas Mengikut Umur 

Faktor Penyumbang

Kami telah meminta setiap responden untuk menamakan 3 faktor utama yang telah memberi kesan mutakhir kepada keadaan mental mereka. Kami dapati bahawa satu faktor telah dinamakan dengan lebih kerap, tanpa mengira sama ada tahap kesejahteraan mental mereka telah berubah dalam jangka masa setahun yang lalu: renungan tentang masa hadapan (lihat Rajah 11 di bawah). Malah, ketidaktentuan berkenaan masa hadapan tampak mempunyai kesan yang lebih ke atas mereka yang melaporkan kesejahteraan mental yang lebih teruk dalam tempoh setahun yang lalu, berbanding mereka yang melaporkan tiada perubahan mahupun peningkatan dalam kesihatan mental mereka.

Tidak menghairankan juga apabila didapati bahawa keadaan kewangan merupakan satu lagi faktor yang  berada dalam tiga tangga teratas bagi semua responden, tanpa mengira tahap kesejahteraan mental mereka. Yang lebih menarik, halatuju ekonomi dan politik negara turut dinamakan dalam tiga tangga teratas sebagai satu lagi faktor pendorong bagi para responden yang melaporkan tahap kesihatan mental yang semakin teruk atau tidak berubah. Dalam hal ini, bolehlah dirumuskan bahawa ketidakstabilan ekonomi dan politik negara telah memberi kesan kepada tahap kesihatan di peringkat nasional. Namun, kajian yang lebih lanjut adalah diperlukan untuk mendapatkan kesimpulan yang lebih jelas.

Rajah 11: Tiga Faktor Penyumbang Utama bagi Kesejahteraan Mental 

Perubahan Tahap Kesihatan Fizikal Sewaktu Pandemik COVID-19

Di samping melihat kepada tahap kesejahteraan mental, kami juga telah mengkaji perubahan terhadap tahap kesihatan fizikal rakyat Malaysia dalam setahun yang lalu. 49% daripada para responden telah melaporkan tiada perubahan, manakala 32% pula telah melaporkan bahawa tahap kesihatan fizikal mereka bertambah teruk dalam tempoh setahun yang lalu. Hanya 19% responden melaporkan peningkatan dalam tahap kesihatan jasmani mereka.

Daripada kelompok 32% responden yang melaporkan penurunan dalam tahap kesihatan fizikal mereka dalam setahun yang lalu, faktor penyumbang yang kerap dipilih dalam tiga tangga tertinggi adalah jumlah pengambilan makanan dan minuman yang kurang sihat (65%). Faktor-faktor lain yang turut tersenarai dalam tiga tangga tertinggi, dari segi urutan menurun, adalah jumlah rokok yang dihisap (55%), jumlah tempoh tidur (54%), kekerapan kegiatan fizikal (52%) dan kualiti tidur (51%).

Rajah 12: Tanggapan Kendiri Para Responden terhadap Kesejahteraan Fizikal berbanding Tahun Lepas

Rajah 13 menunjukkan corak hubungan yang berkadar langsung di antara tahap kesihatan mental dan fizikal bagi para responden. Mereka yang melaporkan tahap kesejahteraan mental yang lebih baik turut melaporkan tahap kesejahteraan fizikal yang lebih baik, dan begitulah sebaliknya – ramai daripada para responden yang melaporkan kesejahteraan mental yang lebih teruk turut juga melaporkan kesejahteraan  jasmani yang lebih teruk (59%).

Rajah 13: Corak Hubungan di antara Kesejahteraan Fizikal dan Mental bagi Responden

Untuk memahami dengan lebih mendalam tentang bagaimana kesihatan jasmani di kalangan rakyat Malaysia telah berubah, kami juga telah meminta para responden untuk melaporkan sebarang perubahan dalam gaya hidup mereka. Tempoh serta kualiti tidur dan kekerapan kegiatan fizikal jasmani didapati adalah dua perkara yang mengalami kemerosotan yang paling ketara.

Rajah 14: Perubahan dalam Gaya Hidup dan Kesihatan

Nota: ‘Jumlah rokok yang dihisap’ hanya dinyatakan oleh para responden yang mengaku sebagai perokok. Para responden yang mengaku sebagai perokok hanyalah 13% daripada jumlah sampel.

Gaya hidup juga mempunyai kaitan rapat dengan markah DASS-21 yang dilaporkan oleh responden. Misalnya, bagi kualiti tidur (sepertimana Rajah 15 di bawah), kita dapat lihat bahawa kemurungan, kegelisahan dan tekanan meningkat dengan ketara bagi para responden yang melaporkan kemerosotan dalam mutu masa tidur mereka, berbanding dengan para responden yang melaporkan tiada perubahan atau peningkatan dalam kualiti masa tidur mereka. Corak yang sama dapat diperhatikan dalam markah DASS-21 merentasi semua tingkah laku gaya hidup yang digariskan di atas.

Rajah 15: Hubungkait Antara Kualiti Tidur dan Kesejahteraan Mental

Pertimbangan Dasar

Kajian ini telah menyerlahkan suatu penemuan yang walaupun mudah untuk diduga masih agak membimbangkan, iaitu kesejahteraan rakyat secara keseluruhannya telah  merosot sejak setahun dilanda pandemik global. Sungguhpun sampel yang diambil tidaklah mewakili kependudukan negara setepatnya, ia jelas menunjukkan bahawa terdapat kemungkinan yang tinggi bahawa keadaan mental dan jasmani rakyat Malaysia telah merosot secara keseluruhan, dan bahawa ramai di kalangan rakyat yang kini mengalami tahap kemurungan, kegelisahan dan tekanan yang teruk dan amat teruk. Walau bagaimanapun, kesan ini tidaklah dialami secara saksama di kalangan rakyat: golongan wanita dan mereka yang berumur di bawah 35 tahun telah terkesan secara tidak proporsional dan memerlukan sokongan yang khusus.

Ketidaktentuan tentang masa hadapan tampak merupakan faktor penyumbang utama kepada tahap kesejahteraan mental, dan walaupun keadaan mungkin akan bertambah baik bagi segolongan rakyat pada bulan-bulan yang bakal mendatang, sesetengah kelompok demografi mungkin mengalami tahap ketidaktentuan yang lebih tinggi dari yang lain, misalnya mereka yang baharu sahaja menamatkan pengajian di peringkat sekolah menengah atau universiti, ataupun mereka yang kehilangan kerja akibat proses pendigitalan yang semakin dipacu oleh keadaan pandemik semasa.

Hubungkait di antara kesihatan mental dan kesihatan fizikal juga jelas kelihatan, dan ini perlu diiktiraf dan diberi perhatian sewajarnya dari segi dasar. Suatu corak yang tekal dapat dilihat di antara markah DASS-21 dan maklumat berkaitan tingkah laku gaya hidup: corak yang negatif dalam kualiti tidur, kegiatan fizikal jasmani dan kualiti pemakanan mempunyai kesan yang besar ke atas keadaan mental bagi para responden (dan kemungkinan juga sebaliknya).

Pada waktu ini, perbincangan yang berkaitan dengan pandemik sering berlegar di sekitar program pemvaksinan yang baharu sahaja dilancarkan, dan juga usaha untuk memulihkan ekonomi negara.  Bagaimanakah caranya untuk kita menyokong mereka yang telah – dan mungkin sekali akan berterusan – mengalami kesan mental dan jasmani akibat pandemik ini?

Capaian yang lebih bersasar bagi sokongan dan kemudahan kesihatan mental adalah mustahak, terutamanya bagi golongan yang sudah dikenalpasti sebagai kelompok yang lebih terdedah, contohnya mereka yang lebih muda, serta golongan wanita. Gerakan akar umbi untuk meningkatkan kesedaran dan menggalakkan mereka yang terkesan untuk mendapatkan pertolongan seharusnya diberi dorongan, dan sumbangan dana sekiranya perlu.

Program jangkauan (outreach) juga sepatutnya digalakkan bagi meningkatkan tingkah laku kesihatan yang bersifat mencegah, dengan cara menampakkan kaitan di antara kesihatan mental dan fizikal. Ini bolehlah merangkumi usaha untuk mendidik masyarakat tentang kepentingan tidur, pemakanan yang sihat, dan kegiatan fizikal, serta cara-cara untuk meningkatkan faktor-faktor tersebut. Di samping itu, adalah penting juga agar sumber sokongan kesihatan mental dapat disampaikan kepada mereka yang kini terbeban dengan rasa ketidaktentuan tentang masa hadapan mereka. 


Dalam Bahagian 2 bagi kajian ini, kami memberikan tumpuan kepada kesan keadaan penghidupan dan aturan kerja-daripada-rumah (“work-from-home”) sewaktu pandemik, manakala Bahagian 3 pula akan memaparkan penemuan kami tentang bagaimana pandemik COVID-19 telah memberi kesan kepada keadaan kewangan dan pekerjaan bagi ramai rakyat Malaysia. 

Sekiranya anda mengalami kesukaran emosi atau mental, sila dapatkan bantuan dan sokongan daripada talian yang berikut: Mercy Malaysia dan talian sokongan psikososial Pusat Kesiapsiagaan dan Tindakan Cepat Krisis di Kementerian Kesihatan iaitu 03-29359935. Talian Kasih yang dikendalikan oleh Kementerian Wanita dan Pembangunan Keluarga juga boleh dihubungi di 15999 atau Whatsapp di 019-2615999. 

When Will Malaysia Reform Its Use Of The Death Penalty?

The death penalty came under the spotlight again very recently with the viral video of Hairun Jalmani. The 55-year-old single mother of nine was sentenced to death under Section 39(B) of the Dangerous Drugs Act last week, following her conviction in 2018. Hairun, who has maintained her innocence, was found by the police in the same room as 113.9g of methamphetamine — an amount equivalent to just under half a cup.

The widely shared footage of Hairun’s cries on receiving her sentence have sparked renewed calls to abolish the death penalty in Malaysia. But cases like Hairun’s are sadly nothing new. More than 1,300 people are on death row in Malaysia as of September 2021. About 75% of them were convicted under Section 39(b) of the Dangerous Drugs Act for drug trafficking, many of them addicts, drug mules or small-time operators rather than drug kingpins. 

For perspective, it takes as little as possessing or being near 50g of methamphetamine, better known as syabu, to be tried as a serious drug trafficker and liable to the death penalty.

Much has been written on the questionable effectiveness of Malaysia’s heavy drug laws and its disproportionate effect on vulnerable people. Therefore, the calls for the abolishment of the death penalty is understandable. But it is also polarising. Following Hairun’s sentencing, calls for death penalty abolishment by prominent figures such as Prof Datuk Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman and Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman was met with vocal opposition from various segments, from netizens to leaders.

The divide over death penalty abolishment is not surprising. Past online media polls show relatively high support for retaining the death penalty; even our organisation’s 2019 representative sample study (Peninsular) found that a small majority of Malaysians, 60%, felt the death penalty is necessary, mostly believing that it has a deterrent effect.

That same study, however, also showed that appetite or support for the death penalty drops sharply depending on the type of offence as well as the presence of mitigating factors. For a low-level drug trafficking offence, defined as local small-scale distribution, only 38% of our representative respondent pool supported the death penalty.

Support for the death penalty drops even more, to only 15% of respondents, when there is lack of intent or knowledge by the perpetrator. Support for the death penalty is similarly low when there are mitigating circumstances, such as age or gender – only 14% of our study respondents supported the death penalty for the case of a teenager found with 600g of cannabis. 

Bottomline, total abolition of the death penalty is a tough proposition. It is highly polarising, as evidenced each time the issue surfaces. However, our study of Malaysian attitudes towards the death penalty tells us that sentencing reform would yield greater impact. There is appetite, at least, for abolishing the mandatory death penalty among Malaysians: in fact, of the 60% of our respondents who think the death penalty is necessary in society, only 1% supported the mandatory death penalty for all specific case scenarios that were posed to them. 

Even if there’s sentencing reform though, there will still be issues. For one, there is still a lack of limitations on using the death penalty in Malaysia on vulnerable groups. As it stands, only offenders who are (i) under the age of 18, (ii) pregnant, or (iii) have young children are excluded from the application of the death penalty. There has yet to be any explicit prohibition on meting out the death penalty against those who either suffer from mental health issues or are elderly in Malaysia — contrary to recommendations by the UN. 

Malaysia’s strict drug laws also lack consideration for mitigating factors such as knowledge of the crime and socioeconomic realities of accused persons. Despite a 2017 amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act that provides for judicial discretion for the death penalty (under certain conditions), unknowing carriers and vulnerable persons are likely held to the same level of accountability as those who sell drugs with criminal intent. A study by Monash University and the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) earlier this year showed that only 4 out of 38 people convicted of drug trafficking in Malaysia between March 2018 and October 2020 were not sentenced to death due to application of this amendment. 

Meanwhile, the focus on ‘small fish’ continues. Bukit Aman’s Narcotics Crime Investigation Department (NCID) recently proposed to lower the weight threshold for the drug trafficking offence. The proposal has received support from Alliance for Safe Community chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, who called for it to be tabled in the Dewan Rakyat as soon as possible. If passed, the move could allow the death penalty to be applied more widely than before, unless there is sentencing reform. 

Nevertheless, both Pakatan Harapan and Perikatan Nasional administrations have expressed intentions to replace the death penalty with minimum jail terms for drug trafficking cases in Malaysia. Home Minister Dato’ Seri Hamzah Zainudin also recently announced that the government is looking into the legalisation of medical marijuana, possibly driven by public outcry from the ‘Dr Ganja’ case and others like it.

Despite conflicting messages, on the whole it feels like the ground amongst lawmakers is ready for reform. But the question is, how many more like Hairun will have to wait until these long overdue changes are carried out?

Global Trends in Gig Worker Policies And Its Lessons

With the rapid growth of gig platforms globally has come several attempts at resolving the lack of worker benefits and social protection coverage for gig workers. Almost every week, a new legislative or policy development emerges somewhere in the world attempting to address these labour law deficiencies.

Policymakers in Malaysia are also contending with the problem, to the extent of mooting the idea of a gig worker legislation last July, mentioned again in the recently announced 12th Malaysia Plan. The stated aim of such legislation is to ensure inclusion in social protection schemes as well as developing a new regulatory framework for the sector.

But how should a new legislation or regulatory framework be designed without causing unwanted U-turns or unintended consequences? And, who exactly are gig workers? Would these include non-platform informal workers too? These questions, and many others, reflect how gig worker protection is still very much an evolving policy area. 

Since early 2021, we have been tracking legislative and policy changes around the world pertaining to gig workers and have analysed the different measures deployed. The key takeaway from looking at the various measures is that it would be a costly mistake to replicate any policy or legislation wholesale in Malaysia but an overall approach needs to be selected to fit our legal framework, labour laws, the country’s tax base and current social safety net scheme, amongst other factors. 

Based on our analysis of global developments there are three distinct approaches or trends in how countries are addressing gig worker social protection coverage; in this piece, we discuss these trends and its lessons for Malaysia. The three trends are (i) designation as employees, (ii) status quo with piecemeal policies, and (iii) development of a new employment category (see Figure 1 for a geographical mapping of these trends).


Figure 1: Three major trends in gig worker protection policies/legislation

Source: Analysis by The Centre

Trend 1: Designating gig workers as employees

Several jurisdictions have classified gig workers as employees to afford employee-level benefits and protections, including Australia, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, and Uruguay. The classification as employees came about mostly via court ruling.

A key factor across these relevant court rulings is the judges’ assessment of employment status based on existing employment tests or indicators. Figure 2 below shows that many of the employment status indicators cited in the court rulings hinge on the judges’ assessment of worker autonomy and the level of control held by the gig platform over the workers. The workers were assessed as having relatively low job autonomy due to factors such as limited ability to negotiate better rates, to reject work without consequences and to decide time and place of work. Platforms were judged to have relatively high levels of control due to factors such as having a performance monitoring feature or algorithmic setting that can discipline, terminate or suspend gig workers.

Figure 2: Employment indicators cited in court cases designating gig workers as employees

Another key factor or commonality across these court cases is that many of them were brought by a relatively small and quite specific group of gig workers: an individual worker in the case of Uruguay and Switzerland, and a group of four workers in the case of Australia. All workers were Uber e-hailers. Action by a comparatively large worker union via class-action suit was brought in only one country: the Netherlands.

The impact of designating gig workers as employees can be problematic. In California, the passing of Assembly Bill No. 5 or AB5, which reclassified gig workers as employees, caused many freelancers to lose their jobs due to the overly broad definition of ‘gig worker’ and ‘employee’ used in the statutory employment status test. The quantum of additional labour costs can also be a problem for platforms to absorb, particularly when abruptly imposed. In countries where employee benefits are high, some gig platform companies have chosen to cease country operations entirely as seen in Germany and Spain

Awarding employee status can also result in policy reversals. After the passing of AB5 in California, giant gig platform companies including Uber, Lyft, and Doordash, fought to keep certain types of gig workers as independent contractors by putting forward a private bill called Proposition 22 (Prop 22). Prop 22 was then overturned by the California Supreme Court which ruled it “unconstitutional and is therefore unenforceable” for taking away the labour rights of gig workers. The story is unlikely to end here.

A slightly different and somewhat complicated development is observed in Taiwan. Public outcry spurred by fatal road accidents involving two delivery riders led to demands for gig platform companies to be punished for not protecting the workers. Under public pressure, the Taiwanese Labour Ministry intervened with an investigation, subsequently concluding that delivery drivers were employees and the gig platforms responsible for their safety. However, the gig platform companies involved have since filed a lawsuit against the government decision.


Trend 2: Largely status quo, with piecemeal policy changes

The majority of countries within this trend grouping have continued to keep silent on the employment status of gig workers – making these workers independent contractors by default – but have embarked on piecemeal efforts.

Countries that have kept silent on gig worker employment status tend to be developing nations with large proportions of informal employment in the total workforce*, such as Indonesia (56%), Thailand (56%) and India (90%). Given the significant presence of informal employment, the risk of misclassifying gig workers is high and potentially extremely costly to workers, businesses and consumers alike. The level of effective worker organisation is also lower in these countries relative to the ‘Trend 1’ countries.

*Note: There are also developed countries in this list, such as Norway, that has yet to decide on gig worker employment status but which has a universal social protection system covering every person, regardless of their employment status. Nevertheless, these countries are the exception rather than the rule.

Given this environment, many of these countries can be described as taking (and being allowed to take) a cautious wait-and-see approach, offering ad hoc targeted measures for the more visible groups of gig workers. Malaysia is a typical example, with the government introducing measures specifically for e-hailing gig workers, including enrolment into voluntary retirement schemes, compulsory occupational licenses, and mandatory accident insurance.

There is however an interesting sub-group of countries within this grouping that has officially designated gig workers as independent contractors. The sub-group comprises mainly developed countries including Belgium, Finland, and New Zealand, which have a relatively small proportion of gig workers in their total labour force. The designation as independent contractor came about mostly via court ruling, where indicators relating to job autonomy were also cited by the judges as the basis. The Arachchige versus Uber BV court case in New Zealand ruled that the driver was self-employed as he had control over several employment aspects* mentioned in Figure 2.

This difference goes to show that judicial deliberations based on employment tests, such as those mentioned in ‘Trend 1 countries’ above, can vary across jurisdictions and produce diametrically opposite results depending on the judges’ assessment as well as the particular type of gig worker that has brought the suit.

*Note: These include the control over hours of work, the use of the worker’s tools and equipment for work, personal responsibility for tax deductions, personal choice in deciding the type of vehicle and services to perform, freedom to work for other services and more.

Interestingly, the Philippines is one of very few developing countries which has enacted a new law to categorise all gig workers as independent contractors. In 2021, the Philippines Congress passed the Freelance Workers Protection Act to ensure contractual rights and certain protections for freelancers and gig workers.

There are of course serious issues and grey areas in designating gig workers as independent contractors. As the New Zealand Employment Court said in a salutary reminder to the above-mentioned court ruling, “simply because a worker is labelled an independent contractor does not mean they actually are”. The same employment test can be applied to a group of e-hailers or delivery riders, and it can yield different assessments on whether they are truly independent contractors or employees, depending on hours worked, the gig platforms’ specific policies and algorithm, and a host of other factors.

Also, and most importantly, unless there is a very good universal safety net or very good social protection schemes for the self-employed, or both, designating gig workers as independent contractors would not address the precarity of gig workers or informal workers more generally. Today, many gig workers in ‘Trend 2’ countries are still excluded from benefits and rights that were mainly designed with full-time employees in mind.


Trend 3: A third employment classification

The concept of a third worker category is not new. It was first introduced in 1965, where Canadian law professor Harry Arthurs used the term ‘dependent contractor’ to describe those who are economically dependent on a company, controlled by the company to some extent, and yet possess some level of job autonomy. Some countries have opted for a third employment classification to capture this particular mix of employment characteristics exhibited by gig workers (see Figure 3).


Figure 3: Third employment category, key countries

The countries in Figure 3 created a third worker category either by extending from existing traditional dual employment classifications or introducing a completely new and separate classification. For example, Italy and the UK expanded the term ‘employee’ by adding ‘para-subordinate worker’ and ‘worker’ respectively, while Ireland included “false self-employed” and “fully dependent self-employed” under the self-employed category. 

Notably, Canada is one of the first countries to create a new employment status by recognising ‘dependent contractor’ in the Ontario labour legislation, even establishing a dependent contractor status test in the early 2010s.

What is a dependent contractor status test?

The Canadian dependent contractor status test is a two-step test to determine whether a worker is a dependent contractor.

The first step determines whether the worker is a contractor or an employee by evaluating various employment indicators pertaining to the worker’s job autonomy. These factors include:
– The employer’s control of the worker’s work
– Whether the worker owned his or her own tools
– Whether the worker had a chance of profit
– The manner in which parties conducted business
– Whether the worker hired his or her own staff
– The extent to which the worker assumed financial risk
– Whether the worker invested capital in the enterprise
– Whether the worker had management responsibility
– Whether the worker worked exclusively for the employer

The second step checks if the worker is an independent contractor or dependent contractor by evaluating three main factors: economic dependence, work exclusivity and job permanency.

Other ‘Trend 3’ countries have started to consider a third employment classification in recent years. As of July 2021, China will designate workers into employees, independent contractors and a third ‘intermediate’ worker group. Accompanying the new regulations is an upcoming algorithmic recommendation law to regulate gig platforms’ algorithms in job allocation, remuneration setting and payment, work time and more. 

Adding a third worker category appears to sidestep some of the pitfalls presented by ‘Trend 1’ and ‘Trend 2’ approaches but it does open up fairly new policy territory and adds to complexity. A novel approach towards mitigating this implementation risk is currently underway In Denmark, where the world’s first collective agreement was reached between gig platform Hilfr and Danish union 3F to conduct a one-year trial to test out a new classification method for gig workers. During the trial period, Hilfr will automatically re-categorise all gig workers who meet the minimum 100 working hours requirement as workers with certain employees’ benefits, unless they opt to remain self-employed.


Drawing lessons from each approach

One key takeaway from our analysis of the three global trends above is that falling back on traditional employee vs. self-employed or contractor classifications will not suffice. Not all gig workers are the same, however we define them, and sweeping all gig workers into a broad ‘employee’ or ‘self-employed’ category ignores the specific employment dynamics that truly define them.

As ‘Trend 1’ countries have shown, the impact of designating broad types of gig workers as employees depends on the locale. In countries where worker benefits are relatively generous, the level of additional costs borne by the gig platforms could result in the reduction of available jobs or worse, business closure. The details of implementation are also hotly contested; for example, should waiting hours be counted as part of working hours? Questions of this nature are by no means automatically settled even when gig workers are classified as employees. Finally, despite calls by some quarters for the employee designation, it is not at all clear if different segments of gig workers are united in wanting this if it means that as a result, opportunities for casual or part-time gig workers are reduced, time flexibility is curtailed, or extra hours are not compensated.

On the other side of the coin, keeping gig workers as independent contractors with piecemeal benefits, as per ‘Trend 2 countries, does not effectively plug gaps in current labour laws and social protection schemes, particularly in developing countries like Malaysia which does not have a universal social safety net. In addition, this regulatory approach risks having a multitude of piecemeal measures, adding more administrative burdens to workers and companies alike. The approach by the Philippines could be worth adapting though, namely in amending legislation to improve rights and benefits for contractors.

The ‘Trend 3’ approach, i.e. designating a third worker category appears as a much more promising policy option in maintaining worker autonomy while awarding a better level of protections commensurate with the degree of dependence and control held by gig platforms as well as non-platform employers (including the government). However, this option would be a relatively uncharted policy territory for Malaysia, demanding much deeper understanding from policymakers and legislators not only on the nature of employment classifications and corresponding tests, but also the practicalities of different gig platforms’ commercial policies, algorithms and business models. We like the experimental sandbox approach currently being undertaken in Denmark on testing this new classification; Malaysia should consider doing the same.

This piece is part of a larger research series on decent work and promulgating a Fair Work Act in Malaysia.

Who Decides What’s Unacceptably Hateful?

In our study on hate speech last year, we set out to identify whether there are patterns of agreement amongst ordinary citizens on what constituted hateful speech, including what constituted ‘very serious’ hateful speech.

While there were some differences of opinion and weightage between people of different ethnicities and religions, as was anticipated, there was a clear near-consensus that speech demonising or ridiculing or otherwise insulting any religion is seen as ‘very serious’ by the majority of our study respondents, regardless of demographic.

Apart from the sense of the act’s inherent wrongness as well as fears of inter-ethnic tension, what was interesting for us researchers was to hear respondents bring up the idea of reciprocity time and again in response to the hate speech samples.

“I wouldn’t want someone to say that about my religion.” “I would feel pretty angry if that was about Islam/Christianity/Buddhism/Hinduism/etc.” 

We had expected that respondents would be able to empathise with others’ sense of rage or diminishment. But we had not expected to hear people from all walks of life so simply and widely articulate a key tenet of the Malaysian social contract: I respect what is sacred to you, you respect what is sacred to me. The same awareness and sensitivity did not extend to other areas; religion was the one consistent area of agreement.

The difference between what is expressed by our study respondents (in both quantitative and qualitative studies, if you’re wondering) and what plays out in the public arena is worlds apart, to put it mildly. Two Muslim preachers, Muhammad Zamri Vinoth Kalimuthu and Firdaus Wong Wai Hung, are not being brought to court to answer latest charges of incitement and insulting other religions as the attorney-general had decided against filing charges. 

According to reports, the deputy public prosecutor representing the government position had informed the magistrate that the attorney-general will not prosecute the preachers as the police had classified their cases as “no further action”. This, despite the reportedly high number of police reports that have been made against the two preachers – a thousand police reports according to the civil society movement Aliran.

The theme of reciprocity and fairness – or lack thereof – also underlies criticism of the AG’s decision. We quote the same May 2021 Aliran piece: “If some stupid idiot insults Islam, quick action is taken – as it should be – to safeguard our unity and peaceful way of life…The same concern should have come to play in this instance…when any other faith is ridiculed and condemned.”

It is not a case of a lack of legislation in this instance – current laws have in fact been applied to arrest one of the preachers, Muhammad Zamri, on similar grounds back in 2019 (charges were not pressed then either). If we were to take issue with the law, it would be to argue that the laws are too broad and insufficiently defined, leading to laxness in some cases and over-punitiveness in others.

In this instance, we maintain that the larger deficiencies are in the institutions involved. The institutional deficiencies in addressing this case, and many others involving speech against minority groups, is apparent at many key levels. The police’s decision to close the case did not need to be justified, despite the number of reports and the risk to national harmony and security. The attorney-general’s decision did not need to be justified either. The silence of the Minister of Law, the Ministry of National Unity, the Ministry of Communications, to name the various portfolios with responsibility over the nation’s ‘harmony’ are not even remarked upon.

To be fair, these entities are dealing with very complex issues and we can only guess at the nature of undercurrents and considerations driving their decisions. For example, the risk of inflaming the numerous followers of controversial preachers cannot be discounted, nor the complex ties to geopolitical issues. But the fact remains that our current institutional approaches and mindsets to these problems are not sufficient, and worse, could be inadvertently licensing extremism. The arbitration of our delicate multi-ethnic and multi-religious population needs a major rethink.

In our original research piece last year, we asked the question: how can we, as a country, fairly evaluate what is unacceptably hateful? And how can we respond to different levels of hateful speech proportionately and sustainably? Given the institutional deficiencies today, we support efforts and policy recommendations to increase the level of accountability of the police as well as the attorney-general. Decisions that impact inter-group relations, amongst others, need to be explained and justified. 

We also argue that apart from having a framework that defines and categorises hateful speech, there is an institutional gap today which does not allow for addressing these issues via civil means. There should be an avenue where civil complaints against hateful speech can be addressed, ideally by a qualified and independent body such as a tribunal or commission, with powers to restrict offending activities as well as to order restitution and rehabilitation. Examples of such entities exist in New Zealand, Australia and Japan, to name a few countries.

Having said that, tackling hateful speech, particularly in religious sermons, needs to involve the whole society and not just rely on official institutions alone. It would really be something to hear sermons counselling against ‘hate-preaching’ and concerted messages of peace, respect and yes, reciprocity, from those with moral authority such as public religious leaders and personalities. In the meantime, aggrieved parties in the non-case of the two preachers continue to fight to be seen and heard in the eyes of the law.

Too Much? Not Enough? Drawing the Line When Monitoring Harmful Online Content

In the recently published Freedom on the Net 2021 report, researchers have noted that there has yet been another decline in internet freedom globally, citing among other factors a “high-stakes battle between states and technology companies” especially in the last year. 

At the heart of this battle is the growing pressure to address harmful content such as hate speech and extremism. There have been interesting developments in this area over the past few weeks; abroad, the international community has witnessed the takeover of Afghanistan by a social media savvy Taliban. Meanwhile, at home and on the opposite end of the spectrum, activist Heidy Quah is suing the Malaysian government over a law which criminalises online content deemed “offensive” and intending to “annoy”.

These contrasting cases beg an important question: what really constitutes harmful online content? Social media platforms and policymakers have long struggled to define and characterise it, a fact noted by many researchers. The Counter Extremism Project (CEP), for instance, found that tech giants continue to fail in noting the severity of online extremism, to draft and enforce their own guidelines, or otherwise implementing safeguards against the problem. These pitfalls are not unique to extremist content –  other forms of harmful content such as incitement to hatred, marginalisation, and violence are still rife on the internet. 

Purportedly banned content has managed to stay online via a range of evasion tactics, exposing a lack of comprehensiveness and agility in social media policies as well as monitoring. Research has found that content from extremist groups were only flagged and removed from social media platforms about 38% of the time, contrary to claims of high removal rates by companies such as Facebook and Twitter.

The Taliban, long designated as a violent group by major companies and banned from key social media platforms, is an interesting example. Since their takeover of Afghanistan, pro-Taliban accounts have reportedly grown in numbers across various platforms. The accounts’ content is typically written in local languages. The writing and tone is subtle so that the posts do not explicitly violate online content policies. The Taliban has also reportedly been hopping from one platform to another to evade bans. It is a case study in the growing sophistication of how harmful online content is able to stay online — in some cases, long enough to incite offline violence.  

On the other hand, certain speech policies, laws or controls are prone to misuse. In Malaysia, overly broad provisions describing harmful content have contributed to an overly punitive approach towards content  as well as limiting legitimate criticism, as exemplified most recently by the Heidy Quah case. After being charged for a Facebook post spotlighting alleged mistreatment of refugees at immigration detention centres, the activist is challenging the law criminalising “offensive” content as unconstitutional. The tagging of her Facebook post as “offensive” is debatable in itself, but equating “offensive” to “criminally harmful” is, in our view, overzealous and disproportionate.

For extremist or hateful content, current measures lack clarity and comprehensiveness. These are issues that we have encountered in our own ongoing work to develop The Centre’s proof-of-concept hate tracker, #TrackerBenci. Fairly serious posts containing localised insults (ex. ‘Bangsa DAPig’, an anti-Chinese slur), rewritten slurs (ex. Malay as ‘meleis’, an anti-Malay/Muslim slur), and vague threats (ex. using the gun emoji) targeting specific groups have managed to stay online. Some of these include explicit threats of violence, such as wishing for the death of someone from a particular ethnic group. The posts have yet to be detected and flagged as harmful content by social media platforms’ monitoring algorithms.

Machines are imperfect, and so are the humans behind them. Containing harmful content will take continuous improvement of policies, both in terms of enforcement and definitions. More resources and continuous learning are required to detect and minimise cleverly written online posts that could be dangerous to individuals or groups of people. Our initiative recognises the importance of this; as part of the process to develop #TrackerBenci, a diverse (though small) panel of locally-informed researchers has sifted through thousands of tweets containing everchanging terminology and misspelled phrases used to target hatred at specific groups in Malaysia.

It’s a different story, however, for so-called “offensive content”. Again, we take the example of tweets analysed for #TrackerBenci. Numerous tweets would likely be determined as “offensive” or “insulting” by the individuals or groups targeted, but not necessarily dangerous, inciting or deserving of criminal charges. As such, current understanding and policies on harmful online content require more clarity and nuance, especially in distinguishing dangerous content from merely “offensive” ones, or ones that are legitimate criticism and dissent.

The issue of deciding what is too lax and too punitive in content regulation will likely remain with us for the foreseeable future. But this is the nature of dealing with harmful online content; constant discourse of what is harmful needs to happen in order to effect policy and legislative improvements. In the meantime, we continue the eye-opening work of perusing Malaysian tweets for our machine-learning hate tracker project – stay tuned.

Generasi Berhutang, Bahagian 2

Dalam Bahagian 1 siri penyelidikan ini, kami telah membincangkan perihal kebingungan hutang pendidikan di Malaysia. Hutang pendidikan telah meningkat dengan ketara saban tahun. Sejak penubuhan PTPTN, institusi pinjaman pendidikan utama Malaysia pada tahun 1997, jumlah peminjam, dan jumlah yang diperlukan untuk membiayai pinjaman telah bertambah. Setiap tahun, kira-kira 200,000 orang menjadi peminjam baharu apabila mereka mengakses pendidikan tinggi melalui pinjaman pendidikan.

Masalah utama yang diketengahkan dalam Bahagian 1 adalah jangkaan peningkatan mobiliti sosial yang tidak direalisasikan. Premis asas pinjaman pendidikan adalah kemampuan peminjam untuk membayar balik pinjaman, berkat potensi pendapatan yang lebih tinggi hasil daripada pencapaian tahap kelayakan pendidikan tinggi. Walau bagaimanapun, pelbagai indikator menunjukkan bahawa ramai graduan tidak memperoleh pekerjaan yang setimpal selepas tamat pengajian mereka, sejak sebelum wabak COVID-19 melanda negara lagi.

Kajian Pengesanan Graduan (SKPG) 2018 menunjukkan bahawa hampir 60% graduan menganggur atau kekal menganggur setahun selepas tamat pengajian mereka. Survei PTPTN juga telah mendapati bahawa lebih dari satu pertiga responden berpendapatan di bawah RM2,000 sebulan. Lebih serius lagi, kombinasi isu potensi pendapatan yang lebih tinggi yang tidak dicapai dan beban hutang pendidikan telah memberi impak yang tidak proporsional kepada peminjam B40, apabila 97% daripada penghutang lalai yang disurvei oleh PTPTN berasal dari kumpulan ini.

Siapakah yang layak untuk penghapusan atau pengampunan hutang?

Fokus utama dasar pada awal 2000-an adalah kelalaian hutang yang disengajakan. Namun kebelakangan ini fokus ini telah beralih kepada kelalaian di luar kawalan peminjam disebabkan prospek pekerjaan yang tidak dipenuhi. Segmen peminjam yang paling terkesan oleh isu ini adalah mereka yang kurang mampu dan terbeban yang berdepan dengan masalah tiga serangkai iaitu: latar belakang sosioekonomi isi rumah yang kurang baik, beban hutang pendidikan dan prospek mobiliti pendapatan yang tergenang disebabkan ketidakbolehpasaran kelayakan.

Pengampunan atau penghapusan hutang pendidikan, sama ada sepenuhnya atau separa, merupakan cadangan dasar utama untuk membantu peminjam bagi melunaskan bayaran balik pinjaman pendidikan mereka. Di Amerika Syarikat, di mana jumlah pinjaman pendidikan yang tinggi merupakan antara masalah ekonomi dan politik yang terbesar,  penghapusan hutang pendidikan merupakan salah satu dasar teras yang dicadangkan oleh beberapa calon pilihan raya presiden 2020, termasuk Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, dan Presiden Joe Biden – perbezaan utama antara mereka terletak pada kriteria dan jumlah penghapusan yang dicadangkan.

Di Malaysia, gabungan pembangkang Pakatan Rakyat pernah mengadakan kempen penghapusan hutang pendidikan pada tahun 2012-2013 berikutan protes pelajar yang diketuai oleh Solidariti Mahasiswa Malaysia (SMM) dan Gerakan Menuntut Pendidikan Percuma (GMPP). Baru-baru ini, Lim Lip Eng, Ahli Parlimen Kepong, telah mencadangkan penghapusan hutang PTPTN bagi peminjam B40 untuk mengurangkan beban hutang keluarga mereka. Geoffrey Williams, seorang ahli ekonomi di Malaysia University of Science and Technology telah menyeru agar kerajaan mengenalpasti dan menghapuskan hutang lapuk PTPTN melalui penghapusan hutang.

Malaysia boleh dan telah melaksanakan penghapusan hutang pendidikan untuk mencapai pelbagai tujuan dasar. Untuk menginsentifkan kecemerlangan akademik, penghapusan pinjaman penuh telah ditawarkan sejak tahun 2003 bagi peminjam PTPTN yang memperoleh ijazah sarjana muda dengan kepujian kelas pertama. Sehingga 31 Disember 2018, 57,236 peminjam telah dikecualikan daripada membayar balik pinjaman pendidikan mereka di bawah skim ini1.

Untuk menginsentifkan bayaran pinjaman yang lebih segera, penghapusan pinjaman separa telah ditawarkan sejak tahun 2013 untuk peminjam PTPTN yang dapat menyelesaikan pinjaman mereka secara bayaran sekaligus atau yang telah membuat bayaran balik secara konsisten2. Dalam ucapan Bajet 2019, penghapusan separa juga telah ditawarkan kepada peminjam berpendapatan rendah berusia 60 tahun dan ke atas.3

Seperti yang dinyatakan dalam sebuah penyelidikan pada tahun 2016 oleh Penang Institute, ada antara dasar penghapusan pinjaman separa ini bersifat regresif. Pelajar yang lulus dengan kepujian kelas pertama biasanya akan lebih mudah dipanggil menghadiri temuduga kerja dan akan mendapat pekerjaan dengan gaji yang lebih baik berbanding rakan sebaya mereka. Peminjam dari keluarga berada dapat menyelesaikan pinjaman mereka melalui bayaran sekaligus berbanding mereka dari keluarga berpendapatan rendah.

Walau apa pun, jelaslah bahawa penghapusan hutang pendidikan bukanlah suatu langkah yang belum pernah dicuba di Malaysia apabila adanya kemahuan politik untuk melaksanakannya. Oleh itu, daripada menghapuskan hutang mereka yang mempunyai prospek yang lebih baik untuk membayar balik, kami mencadangkan penghapusan pinjaman pendidikan bersasar dan separa dilaksanakan untuk segmen peminjam yang dikenalpasti paling tidak mampu dan paling terbeban disebabkan faktor-faktor struktural.

Suatu langkah untuk mengkategorikan peminjam semasa perlu diusahakan untuk menentukan siapa yang tergolong dalam segmen ini. Beberapa faktor yang harus diambil kira termasuklah latar belakang sosioekonomi keluarga, gaji terdahulu dan terkini peminjam, dan kualiti kelayakan yang diterima (contohnya bidang pengajian, taraf kelayakan dan status institusi yang menganugerahkan kelayakan tersebut).

Penghapusan pinjaman separa untuk segmen peminjam ini haruslah diberikan pada kadar yang dampak atau signifikan ke atas baki pinjaman mereka, misalnya RM20,000 atau 50-80% daripada baki pinjaman. Di samping itu, bagi mereka yang berada dalam segmen peminjam yang dikenal pasti telah membayar pinjaman mereka selama lebih dari 15 tahun, baki hutang mereka patut dihapuskan sepenuhnya bagi membebaskan mereka daripada hutang pendidikan. Pada masa ini, tiada garis masa ditetapkan untuk peminjam ‘bebas dari hutang’ walau apa pun keadaan mereka.

Pengkritik mungkin akan bertanya mengapa tidak kita lanjutkan sahaja tempoh pinjaman? Pada pandangan kami, penghapusan hutang separa bersasar adalah pilihan dasar yang lebih kuat dari segi moral berbanding melanjutkan tempoh pinjaman untuk peminjam yang tiada kemampuan dan terbeban untuk membayar balik. Pelanjutan tempoh pinjaman akan menyebabkan peminjam membayar lebih banyak faedah dan diperangkap oleh beban hutang untuk jangka masa yang lebih lama.

Di peringkat negeri, kesedaran tentang pentingnya untuk beban pinjaman pendidikan diringankan telah dapat dilihat. Awal tahun ini, kerajaan negeri Sarawak melalui Yayasan Sarawak menandatangani Memorandum Persefahaman dengan PTPTN untuk membayar 30% pinjaman pendidikan peminjam Sarawak setelah peminjam membayar 30% daripada hutang mereka. Sehingga kini  9,000 peminjam dari negeri itu telah menerima manfaat ‘penghapusan’ 30% hutang mereka melalui dasar ini.

Pastinya ia boleh menjadi suatu dasar yang jauh lebih progresif  jika ambang batas minimum diketepikan dan jumlah penyelesaian hutang yang lebih besar ditawarkan kepada peminjam berpendapatan rendah yang berkelayakan. Namun demikian, di sebalik kekurangan ini, langkah ini patut dipantau supaya kita dapat melihat impaknya ke atas kebajikan peminjam serta kesan-kesannya yang lain. Penyelidikan di Amerika Syarikat menunjukkan bahawa penghapusan hutang pendidikan dapat meningkatkan kestabilan keluarga dan mobiliti ke atas, membolehkan peminjam memulakan perniagaan sendiri, menyimpan wang pendahuluan untuk membeli rumah, memulakan keluarga, membuat simpanan untuk masa kecemasan, melanjutkan pengajian dan membantu menjana ekonomi.

Selain itu, kerajaan harus mewujudkan mekanisme pengaduan untuk menyiasat aduan dan membatalkan hutang peminjam yang telah dikelirukan oleh institusi pendidikan tinggi (IPT) tertentu, atau apabila program pengajian mereka dihentikan atau tidak diakreditasi atau apabila IPT ditutup sebelum peminjam menamatkan pengajian mereka4.  Pada masa artikel ini ditulis (Julai 2021), nilai ijazah lebih daripada 500 pelajar dari Limkokwing University of Creative Technology (LUCT) telah menjadi tanda tanya selepas akreditasi sementara kursus mereka dibatalkan oleh Agensi Kelayakan Malaysia (MQA). Beberapa pelajar kursus tersebut telah membayar sehingga RM72,000 sebagai yuran pengajian. Perlindungan seperti yang kami cadangkan di sini terdapat di negara Australia, untuk membantu peminjam sekiranya IPT berhenti daripada menawarkan kursus mereka ataupun tutup sepenuhnya.

Penghapusan hutang separa sebagai pendorong khidmat awam? Pada masa artikel ini ditulis, kerajaan Kanada menawarkan untuk membatalkan $8,000 dari hutang pendidikan setiap tahun kepada doktor dan $4,000 setiap tahun kepada jururawat dan pengamal jururawat, dengan syarat mereka bekerja sekurang-kurangnya 400 jam di kawasan komuniti terpencil atau luar bandar. Manfaat ini boleh dituntut selama lima tahun, yang membawa kepada jumlah penghapusan hutang yang signifikan.

1 Kos penghapusan pinjaman ini pada mulanya ditanggung oleh PTPTN tetapi beralih kepada kerajaan sejak tahun 2015. Kumpulan peminjam ini mewakili 1.6% daripada 3.5 juta peminjam PTPTN pada tahun 2018 dan telah mendapat penghapusan sebanyak RM1.75 bilion. Sumber: Laporan Tahunan PTPTN 2018.
2 Insentif diskaun tersebut diperkenalkan dalam Bajet 2012 termasuk diskaun 20% untuk peminjam yang menyelesaikan hutang mereka dalam satu bayaran sekaligus dan diskaun 10% bagi mereka yang membayar secara konsisten selama satu tahun. Tawaran ini dihentikan/tamat pada Disember 2018.
 3 Kriteria kelayakan adalah pendapatan bulanan RM4,000 dan ke bawah. Skim ini dikatakan telah menguntungkan 350 peminjam dengan kos RM4.2 juta.
4 Dasar semasa untuk membantu pelajar yang terjejas adalah dengan mengatur pemindahan kredit ke IPT lain. Namun, pada pendapat kami, pelajar harus diberi pilihan antara berpindah ke IPT lain dan meneruskan pinjaman mereka, atau menghentikan pengajian dan membatalkan pinjaman mereka.

Siapa yang perlu membayar, bila dan berapa?

Selain daripada isu peminjam yang terbeban disebabkan faktor-faktor struktural, dua persoalan lain yang berkaitan dengan pinjaman pendidikan tertunggak perlu diselesaikan: bilakah masa yang sesuai untuk peminjam mula membayar balik hutang mereka (ambang), dan berapa banyak yang harus mereka bayar (penahapan)?

Dasar sedia ada PTPTN hari ini adalah skim bayaran balik berasaskan masa, di mana semua peminjam dijangka mula membayar ansuran pinjaman 12 bulan setelah tamat pengajian tanpa mengira tahap pendapatan mereka5. Skim ini tidak mengambil kira perbezaan tahap kemampuan peminjam untuk membayar balik, dan ia menghukum mereka yang tidak dapat membayar balik dan membebankan mereka yang boleh membayar balik.

Cadangan dasar utama untuk mengatasi masalah ini adalah idea bayaran balik berasaskan pendapatan di mana peminjam hanya mula membayar balik pinjaman pendidikan mereka setelah mencapai tahap pendapatan yang bersesuaian dan di mana kadar bayaran balik akan meningkat mengikut kenaikan pendapatan peminjam. Dasar ini pada mulanya dilaksanakan di Australia. Menurut Bruce Chapman, profesor di Crawford School of Public Policy di Australian National University6, sistem bayaran balik berasaskan pendapatan ini telah menjadi inspirasi kepada dasar-dasar yang serupa di New Zealand, Afrika Selatan, England, Hungary, Thailand, Korea Selatan, dan Belanda. Bayaran balik berasaskan pendapatan dianggap lebih adil kerana bayaran balik hanya akan dibuat oleh mereka yang mempunyai pendapatan yang sesuai dan pada masa yang sama mengurangkan kesulitan dan risiko kegagalan membayar balik dałam kalangan peminjam berpendapatan rendah.

Dasar ini hampir dilaksanakan di Malaysia. Berikutan ucapan Bajet 2019 oleh Menteri Kewangan ketika itu Lim Guan Eng, Pengerusi PTPTN, Wan Saiful Wan Jan telah mengemukakan cadangan yang dipanggil Potongan Gaji Berjadual (PGB) yang bertujuan untuk menetapkan jadual bayaran balik pinjaman secara progresif antara 2 hingga 15 peratus dari pendapatan, bergantung kepada pendapatan bulanan peminjam7.

Cadangan itu akhirnya ditangguhkan disebabkan reaksi awam yang negatif.  Salah satu punca utama reaksi negatif tersebut adalah penetapan ambang pendapatan bulanan untuk bayaran balik pada RM2,000 yang dianggap terlalu rendah oleh orang ramai (awalnya ditetapkan pada RM1,000, angka yang mengejutkan memandangkan ianya lebih rendah daripada gaji minimum). Banyak peminjam juga kecewa kerana bayaran bulanan yang dijadualkan meningkat secara drastik, dari RM150-RM300 sebulan hingga RM1,200 sebulan. Seperti menuangkan minyak tanah dalam api, skim ini telah dicadangkan untuk diwajibkan kepada semua peminjam dan berkuatkuasa serta merta.

Secara prinsipnya, kami menyokong idea bayaran balik berasaskan pendapatan sebagai satu langkah untuk memfasilitasikan bayaran balik yang lebih tinggi dan segera di kalangan peminjam yang mampu. Namun untuk ia menjadi dasar yang boleh dilaksanakan, kita perlulah memahami kekangan yang dihadapi peminjam sedia ada dan psikologi mereka.

Pertama, pelaksanaan dasar pinjaman berasaskan pendapatan ke atas peminjam sedia ada harus dibuat secara sukarela. Mengubah jumlah bayaran balik tanpa memberi ruang dan fleksibiliti kepada peminjam untuk memilih, walaupun dalam kalangan mereka yang berpendapatan lebih tinggi, berkemungkinan akan menimbulkan kemarahan seperti yang berlaku terhadap cadangan pada tahun 2019. Untuk mendorong penerimaan dan penyertaan secara sukarela dalam skim ini, kita boleh mengambil contoh daripada pemasaran pinjaman perumahan, yang menunjukkan peminjam jumlah penjimatan yang dapat mereka nikmati dan berapa cepat mereka boleh bebas dari hutang jika mereka meningkatkan bayaran ansuran bulanan mereka.

Kedua, ambang bayaran balik haruslah munasabah dari segi ekonomi dan politik untuk mengelakkan penolakan dasar ini secara keseluruhan. Menetapkan ambang pendapatan yang terlalu rendah bukan sahaja akan mengundang reaksi negatif orang ramai, tetapi juga akan mewujudkan suasana yang membawa kepada kesulitan hutang dan kegagalan untuk membayar balik dalam kalangan peminjam berpendapatan rendah. Untuk memaksimumkan penerimaan dan keberkesanan dasar ini, kami mencadangkan agar ambang bayaran balik ditetapkan pada tahap yang membolehkan peminjam mencapai taraf hidup minimum yang wajar, sama ada selaras dengan gaji median nasional8 ataupun dengan kadar berasaskan perbelanjaan seperti yang disyorkan Belajawanku oleh Social Wellbeing Research Centre, yang mengambil kira faktor yang sangat penting, iaitu saiz isi rumah. Sebagai penanda aras, kita boleh melihat kepada Australia, dimana pendapatan peribadi median adalah $49,805 dan ambang pendapatan bayaran balik pinjaman pendidikan pada masa ini ditetapkan pada $ 46,62099.

Ketiga, penahapan bayaran balik pinjaman juga perlulah pada kadar yang boleh diterima oleh peminjam dari segi kemampuan dan pilihan peribadi mereka. Penahapan yang dicadangkan oleh PTPTN pada akhir tahun 2018 boleh dikatakan terlalu drastik. Penahapan dalam sistem bayaran berasaskan pendapatan Australia lebih beransur-ansur dalam kenaikan kadar bayarannya, berasaskan pembahagian kumpulan-kumpulan pendapatan yang lebih teliti dan tidak menuntut bayaran melebihi 10% dari pendapatan peminjam. Kami bandingkan kedua-dua jadual penahapan ini dalam Rajah 1 di bawah.

Rajah 1: Penahapan Bayaran Balik PTPTN yang Dicadangkan Malaysia 2018 berbanding Australia

5 Walau bagaimanapun, PTPTN membenarkan rundingan untuk menstruktur semula bayaran mengikut kes. Apabila ‘lockdown penuh’ kali ketiga dilaksanakan pada bulan Jun, Menteri Pengajian Tinggi mengumumkan bahawa peminjam boleh memohon penangguhan selama tiga bulan untuk membayar balik pinjaman mereka.
6 Dan penasihat sekurang-kurangnya satu kajian utama mengenai pembiayaan pendidikan tinggi yang dijalankan oleh kerajaan Malaysia.
7 Untuk menentukan tahap pendapatan peminjam, kerajaan telah menyusun kerjasama antara agensi yang melibatkan Kumpulan Wang Simpanan Pekerja (KWSP), Lembaga Hasil Dalam Negeri (LHDN), Kumpulan Wang Persaraan Diperbadankan (KWAP), Jabatan Akauntan Negara, Jabatan Urusan Gaji Angkatan Tentera dan Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam (JPA). PTPTN sendiri tidak mempunyai akses secara automatik atau rekod terkini pendapatan peminjamnya.
8 Yang mempunyai manfaat tambahan kerana ia boleh bergerak seiringan dengan pertumbuhan atau penguncupan ekonomi. Angka gaji median dikemas kini setiap tahun dalam Laporan Survei Gaji dan Upah; laporan terkini (2019) meletakkan gaji median pada kadar RM2,442.
9 Sehingga empat tahun yang lalu, ambang pendapatan berada pada sekitar $56,000 tetapi Kerajaan Australia telah menurunkannya ke tahap sekarang secara beransur-ansur.
10 Berdasarkan klasifikasi terkini B40-M40-T20 terkini oleh Jabatan Statistik.
11 Berdasarkan persentil isi rumah dan pendapatan tahunan dalam kajian oleh ACOSS / University of NSW.

Tetapi bayaran balik sahaja tidak akan mencukupi

Langkah-langkah yang diambil untuk menurunkan kadar kelalaian hutang dalam beberapa tahun kebelakangan ini boleh memberi tanggapan bahawa pungutan hutang merupakan jawapan untuk menjamin kelestarian PTPTN. Namun demikian, kebenaran yang pahit untuk ditelan adalah bahawa kalaupun kesemua hutang tertunggak telah dijelaskan (yang tidak mungkin akan berlaku), ianya masih tidak mencukupi untuk melunaskan hutang PTPTN kepada institusi-institusi kewangan dan untuk menampung kos operasi badan tersebut.

Jurang antara kadar faedah yang dikenakan oleh PTPTN ke atas peminjam dan kadar faedah yang perlu  dibayar oleh PTPTN untuk pinjamannya sendiri terlalu besar, seperti yang telah dibincangkan dalam Bahagian 1 siri penyelidikan ini. Untuk mengilustrasikan skala jurang ini, pada tahun 2018 PTPTN mengumpulkan RM400 juta bayaran faedah dari peminjam tetapi perlu membayar faedah RM1.7 bilion untuk pinjamannya sendiri12.

Pilihan yang ada adalah untuk menambah hasil daripada pungutan hutang PTPTN dan pinjaman badan itu dari institusi-institusi kewangan melalui suntikan berkala daripada kerajaan (yang sedang berlaku sekarang) atau pengambilalihan hutang oleh kerajaan13. Mana-mana tindakan ini mesti dibiayai sama ada oleh pendapatan kerajaan atau pembayar cukai. Oleh itu, ‘penyelesaian’ dasar di sini bukanlah berkaitan soal merapatkan jurang pembiayaan (namun begitu, lihat saranan untuk memperuntukkan pendapatan minyak oleh mantan ahli parlimen Rafizi Ramli14). Pada pendapat kami, ia lebih berkaitan soal meningkatkan akauntabiliti dan ketelusan dalam cara pinjaman PTPTN dibiayai. Memandangkan jumlah yang terlibat, perdebatan, analisis dan pengawasan yang lebih meluas harus berlaku.

Dalam struktur governans hari ini, tidak jelas bagaimana penggubal undang-undang dapat memainkan peranan yang bermakna dalam mengawasi PTPTN, atau siapa yang dapat memutuskan untuk mereformasikan PTPTN. Banyak pemegang taruh yang terlibat, termasuk Menteri Pengajian Tinggi, Menteri Kewangan, malah Perdana Menteri juga, yang boleh memberi sokongan untuk menggubal (atau memveto) cadangan untuk mereformasi PTPTN. Bagi meningkatkan akauntabiliti dan pengawasan, adalah lebih efektif jika PTPTN diletakkan di bawah bidang kuasa satu kementerian dan penggubal undang-undang diberi kuasa untuk memantau institusi tersebut.

Apakah lagi yang diperlukan untuk meningkatkan akauntabiliti dan ketelusan? Pertama, semua kajian yang dijalankan oleh PTPTN dan data yang dikumpulkan harus dibuka aksesnya kepada orang ramai, dan dibahaskan di parlimen dan/atau jawatankuasa-jawatankuasa yang berkenaan. Kedua, jawatankuasa pilihan khas dan kaukus parlimen mengenai PTPTN  dan pembiayaan pendidikan tinggi harus dibentuk dan diberi kuasa supaya wakil rakyat dapat membahas, menganalisis dan memberi pengawasan dengan lebih berkesan. Sebagai contoh, parlimen Australia mempunyai sebuah Jawatankuasa Tetap Senat mengenai Pendidikan dan Pekerjaan, yang membolehkan para penggubal undang-undang untuk mempertimbangkan perkara-perkara berkaitan pendidikan dan pekerjaan dan menegakkan kepentingan awam.

12 Hasil faedah pinjaman adalah hasil kos pentadbiran 3% dan ujrah 1% ke atas pinjaman pelajaran yang dikenakan kepada peminjam.
13 Contoh sebelum ini termasuk langkah menyelamatkan FELDA dan penebusan sukuk secara beransur semasa penyusunan semula Tabung Haji.
14 Selain mengusulkan rang undang-undang untuk memperuntukkan peratusan pendapatan minyak ke dalam dana pelaburan pendidikan, Rafizi juga mengusulkan penerbitan bon kerajaan baharu untuk melunaskan hutang PTPTN sebagai alternatif.

Kesimpulan

Dalam bahagian ini, kami telah mengutarakan tiga cadangan dasar untuk menangani isu hutang pendidikan yang tertunggak: penghapusan hutang separa bersasar, bayaran balik berasaskan pendapatan, dan pengawasan yang lebih teliti terhadap cara kerja dan pembiayaan PTPTN. Namun, dalam mendokong dasar-dasar ini, kami mengulangi seruan agar semua kajian dan data yang berkaitan dengan PTPTN dan pembiayaan pendidikan tinggi diterbitkan secara terbuka. Penyelidikan dasar yang lebih mantap dan mendalam mengenai pinjaman pendidikan dan pembiayaan pendidikan tinggi memerlukan ketersediaan data mikro serta sumbangan semua penyelidik, penggubal undang-undang dan  pembuat dasar yang berminat dengan isu ini – bukan hanya beberapa yang terpilih. Jangkaan impak daripada pelaksanaan langkah-langkah dasar di atas, seperti yang dibuat oleh Levy Institute di Amerika Syarikat ini, tidak dapat dilakukan di Malaysia disebabkan ketiadaan data yang boleh diakses orang ramai.

Senarai Terpilih Kajian Mengenai Hutang Pendidikan di Malaysia

Chapman, Bruce dan Michelle Tan. “The Australian University Student Financing System: The Rationale for, and Experience with, Income-contingent loans”, dalam Student Loan Schemes. Experiences of New Zealand, Australia, India and Thailand and Way Forward for Malaysia, USM Press. 2009. 38-63.

Hock-Eam, Lim, Russayani Ismail, dan Yusnidah Ibrahim. “The Implications of graduate labor market performance in designing a student loan scheme for Malaysia.” Dalam Income Contingent Loans. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2014. 83-97.

Ismail, Russayani. “Equality of opportunity and student support schemes” Dalam: The 5th ASEAN Symposium on Educational Management and Leadership (ASEMAL 5), 18-19 August 2007, Legend Hotel, Kuala Lumpur. 2007 (tidak diterbitkan).

Ismail, Russayani. “A Review, Investigation and Recommendation for National Higher Education Funding (Kajian Menyemak, Mengkaji dan Mencadangkan Transformasi Pembiayaan Pengajian Tinggi Negara”. Kementerian Pendidikan dan PTPTN. 2012.

Ong Kian-Ming, Jonathan Yong, Chew Khai-Yen dan Dickson Ng, “The Sustainability of the PTPTN Loan Scheme”, Penang Institute, Disember 2016.

Cadangan penstrukturan semula PTPTN Pakatan Harapan (tidak didedahkan).

Survei PTPTN 2019 (tidak diterbitkan).

Kertas Konsultasi Awam PTPTN, April 2019 (diterbitkan sebahagian kepada umum).

Pelan Strategik PTPTN 2021.

Wan Saiful Wan Jan, “Malaysia’s Student Loan Company: Tackling the PTPTN Time Bomb,” ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, April 2020.


Penyelidikan dasar yang baik yang dapat memenuhi keperluan kebolehlaksanaan ekonomi, sosial dan politik akan diperlukan tidak hanya bagi menangani isu-isu yang berkaitan dengan pinjaman pendidikan sedia ada tetapi juga untuk melakukan perubahan terhadap pinjaman pendidikan baharu pada masa hadapan. Dalam bahagian seterusnya siri penyelidikan ini, kami akan membincangkan perubahan yang lebih luas yang diperlukan dalam dasar pinjaman pendidikan dan pembiayaan pendidikan tinggi pada masa akan datang.

The Case for a Fair Work Act, Part 3

In Part 1 of this research series, we called for updating employment categories and labour laws to reflect significant changes in power relationships between employers* and workers today. Basing our framework on the Fair Work Initiative, we proposed an overarching Fair Work Act covering five pillars of employment, namely fair pay, fair working conditions, fair contracts, fair management and fair representation.

*Note: The term ‘employer’ is used broadly throughout this piece, representing the party that either employs the worker or is the intermediary for the supply of jobs. 

The previous instalment of this series, Part 2, focused on fair pay. We discussed how current minimum wage laws lack clear standards by which a ‘minimum’ should be set, leaving it prone to over-rely on stakeholder negotiation and under-deliver on notions of fairness. We argued that the minimum wage be defined as a level that allows workers to live adequately, i.e. a ‘living’ wage. We also proposed how the idea of fair pay and fair minimum wages could work for employment categories other than full-time employees.

This third instalment of the research series will focus on the next pillar of Fair Work, namely fair working conditions. What does fair working conditions mean in Malaysia? And how would it apply to different employment categories? We asked these questions and more in this article.

What do ‘fair working conditions’ cover?

The term ‘fair working conditions’ is broad and covers a range of areas including working age, working hours and break time, worker accommodation, leave days, workplace safety and more.

Historically, laws and regulations on working conditions were first introduced during the First Industrial Revolution to curb labour exploitation and impose standards for workers’ safety and health. Rapid industrialisation had drawn thousands of workers from agricultural farming to manufacturing jobs and the lack of regulations meant many were compelled to work long hours under extreme conditions, including children. To curb such abuses, the British government established the first landmark labour law known as the British Health and Morals of Apprentices Act 1802, at first to set the minimum working age and limit working hours. Since then, definitions and regulations for decent working conditions have broadened and evolved over the years.

There are a variety of definitions and scopes. For example, under the decent work pillar of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG), a target related to working conditions is set out to “promote safe and secure working environments of all workers, including migrant workers, in particularly women migrants, and those in precarious employment”. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) also broadly defines working conditions as humane conditions of work necessary for peace and harmony of the society. A narrower definition is offered by the Oxford Internet Institute, which focuses mainly on workers’ health and safety at work and the risks emerging from the processes of work.

In view of the above, our scoping of ‘fair working conditions’ for the proposed Fair Work Act refers mainly to measures that mitigate direct on-the-job risks which include hours of work, occupational safety and health, leave days and worker accommodation. We also discuss how to treat a more debatable dimension which relates to measures concerning broader ‘off-the-job’ risks, such as against unemployment, skill relevance, illness and ageing.

What fair working conditions mean to workers will also vary greatly depending on their employment status. Different power relationships between employer and worker would necessitate different levels of interventions from employers and the government. In the following sections, we discuss the regulations and protections required for different employment categories to achieve the ideal of ‘fair working conditions’.

Current Malaysian laws on Working Conditions

After Independence, the Malaysian government built on the British Colonial Administration’s Labour Code 1933 to introduce the Employment Act 1955 for regulating the working conditions of employees. Over the years, the government implemented supplementary laws* and ratified 18 ILO conventions to shape working conditions that meet international standards.

*Note: Read Part 1 of our Fair Work Act research series to learn more about existing labour laws.

Key pieces of current legislation related directly to working conditions are outlined in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Current Malaysian legislation on working conditions

As mentioned in Part 1, the premise of most employment legislation today hinges very much on formal, full-time employees. There are few laws covering the working conditions of those engaging in relatively independent and flexible jobs such as independent contractors and dependent contractors.

For these non-employees, their hours of work are not regulated and they are not entitled to any paid leave days. Only those whose job is regulated by a licensing entity would have to follow certain labour standards related to specific aspects of occupational health and safety such as e-hailing drivers (compulsory motor accident insurance, enforced by MOT) and farmers (standard guidelines on handling hazardous agricultural chemicals, enforced by MOHR). There are voluntary schemes to protect contractors against work accidents such as the Self-Employed Employment Injury Scheme (SEEIS) but voluntary take-up and awareness is low. There is also no regulation mandating take-up or top-down enrolment into schemes for broader risks such as unemployment or ageing/retirement, though there are voluntary programs like EPF’s i-Saraan which similarly see very low take-up.

Updating legislation to ensure fair working conditions

The changing employment landscape caused by rapid digital transformation and hiring practices has exposed massive gaps in current laws on working conditions. The following sections will discuss these shortcomings and potential policy ideas to tackle them.

Hours of work

Despite having maximum working hours of 48 hours a week, overworking remains prevalent among workers in Malaysia. According to a KRI study, about half of all workers spent more than the maximum weekly hours working, especially those in mining, administrative, and support services sectors. In 2020, the capital city Kuala Lumpur was ranked the fourth most overworked city in the world.

Regulating hours of work is mainly applicable for full-time employees that engage in shift work, which can be easily tracked unlike employees that engage in non-shift work. For these shift workers, the government currently permits up to 104 hours of overtime work every month, significantly lenient compared to the 12 hours a week limit (equivalent to 48 hours a month) endorsed by the ILO Hours of Work (Industry) Convention 1919. There is also an issue of enforcement; there have been cases of workers doing overtime without being paid the legally mandated overtime rate as reported by the Ethical Trading Initiative.

Meanwhile, be they full-time employees, independent contractors or dependent contractors, workers engaging in non-shift work face a greater risk of working excessive hours in order to complete deliverables or meet employer/client expectations. Work fatigue caused by working excessive hours heightens the risk of work-related accidents and health issues. Yet, it would be difficult to impose working hours regulations on non-shift workers due to the practicalities in time tracking as well as the workers’ own preferences.

Policy recommendations

To ensure safety against work exhaustion for shift workers, the maximum hours for overtime should be brought in line with, or closer to, the ILO recommendation – not only in number of hours but also instituting weekly limits rather than monthly limits. A safe whistleblower channel for reporting involuntary or underpaid overtime work should also be made accessible for all employees, including migrant workers.

For non-shift full-time employees and for dependent contractors, the government most likely cannot regulate their hours of work as it would be tough to track and enforce. For dependent contractors, it could also take away their job flexibility which is an attractive and preferred aspect of their job for many. That said, the government can safeguard such workers against practices that lead to overworking. Non-shift workers should also be able to access a safe whistleblower channel to report systematic or pressured overworking. Fatigue monitoring features or periodical algorithm audits can be made mandatory for companies reliant on dependent contractors, such as gig platforms, to avoid encoding overwork into the platform.

Independent contractors are usually assumed to have sufficient means and capacity to negotiate their working hours, as they have the highest degree of job autonomy and control. However, the government can still introduce legal safeguards into contract laws against involuntary overtime work, such as voiding hidden clauses or terms set by clients to compel independent contractors to work during unusual hours.

Paid leave days

Currently, only full-time employees are entitled to have a minimum of 21 paid leave days (which includes 13 days of paid public holidays), 14 days of sick leave and 60 days of hospitalisation leave in a year. Female employees have 60 consecutive days of maternity leave though this is still less than the minimum of 98 days recommended by the ILO Maternity Protection Convention. Paternity leave and childcare leave is not provided for in Malaysian law and a study by WAO has also highlighted that these are not widely granted by companies voluntarily.

By law, non-employees like dependent contractors and independent contractors are not entitled to any paid leave days regardless of hours worked.

Too many holidays?
Contrary to the popular perception that Malaysia has too many holidays, a KRI study shows that paid leave days in Malaysia are about the same as other countries if not less. Some examples: Singapore (18 days), Vietnam (22 days), Indonesia (27 days) and South Korea (30 days).

Policy recommendations

Workers of any employment category should be able to earn paid leave days in exchange for serving an accumulated number of working hours, though implementing this practice would be quite challenging for certain jobs.

Nevertheless, some examples of fair or desirable paid leave policy could be more straightforward; for instance maternity leave should get closer to the 98 days recommended by ILO. Paternity leave and childcare leave should be instituted to promote shared responsibilities in caregiving between parents.

For dependent contractors and independent contractors, the provision of paid leave days is operationally challenging because of the flexible nature of their jobs. For dependent contractors, a policy of ‘earned leave’ could be trialled out, much like qualifying for perks with accumulated hours worked or tasks performed, particularly for gig platform workers. For independent contractors, instead of mandating paid leave days, the government could establish guidelines of minimum employment terms in contract law that outlines recommended number of paid leave days commensurate with the tenure of the contract.

Occupational safety and health

There has been a decrease in fatal and non-fatal occupational injuries since the 1980s. Nevertheless, construction site accidents, hazardous working conditions in manufacturing factories, work accidents involving delivery riders and other occupational safety and health (OSH) issues are still frequently reported. One reason contributing to work accidents is the reduced capacity in law enforcement, specifically the National OSH Council that is responsible to set and monitor labour standards concerning OSH matters for various jobs and industries.

Between 2010 and 2020, the operating budget for the Ministry of Human Resources (MOHR) has increased from RM582.39 million to RM834.73 million and the number of employed persons has jumped from 11.90 million people to 15.22 million people. Yet, the number of public service workers for the OSH department under the MOHR has decreased from 1,855 people to 1,692 people during the same time. Using the public service worker headcount as a proxy for the government’s enforcement capacity, the OSH department is severely understaffed.

Moreover, there are new aspects of workplace safety and health matters which are excluded from the existing OSH regulatory framework, such as sexual harassment, mental burnout, worker vaccination, accidents while remote working and more.

Meanwhile, there are few regulations on OSH issues for non-employees. Workplace safety and health guidelines for specific occupations or sectors which cover both employees and non-employees are set by very few bodies like the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) and the Land Public Transport Agency (APAD), if at all.

A similar exclusion problem between employees and non-employees is also exemplified by the implementation of worker vaccination programs via the Program Imunisasi Industri Covid-19 Kerjasama Awam-Swasta (PIKAS). While the vaccination costs of employees in essential industries (i.e. agriculture, construction, manufacturing, plantation, retail) are subsidised by their employers, many non-employees working in essential services sectors, such as e-hailers, delivery riders and contract hospital cleaners have not been similarly fast-tracked nor subsidised.

Policy recommendations

At the minimum, sufficient funds and human resources should be allocated to ensure the enforcement capacity of the National OSH Council and the relevant enforcement body in conducting frequent labour inspections.

The government should make the national insurance against employment injuries (i.e. SOCSO) mandatory for all workers, regardless of their employment status. The scope of SOCSO coverage should be revised to address some of the emerging OSH issues, such as mental burnout and accidents while remote working.

With sexual harassment becoming an increasing concern, the government should review the existing labour laws and the role of the National OSH Council in shaping a safe working environment. If the government intends to introduce an Anti-Sexual Harassment Act, the National OSH Council should be included to support the enforcement of the act.

Worker accommodation

Whether it is for local workers or migrant workers, Malaysia’s current worker accommodation guidelines are severely inadequate. The past reports on the state of housing accommodation for workers indicated an average of 10 workers fitting into a room of approximately 800 to 900 square feet although sometimes 16 to 24 workers can be found in a unit. The Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has even pointed to the dire and crowded living conditions* as a major factor for COVID-19 outbreaks at workplaces, such as wet markets, manufacturing factories and construction sites.
*Note: We had previously discussed the poor living conditions of the workers’ accommodation in our past article.

Policy recommendations

Setting safe and humane workers’ housing standards for all eligible workers.

The stark difference in the multi-person accommodation guidelines between the Workers’ Minimum Standard of Housing and Amenities (Amendment) Bill and the Selangor student hostel guidelines suggests that the living space standards for workers should be more adequate and humane. The government should refine the minimum housing standards to treat all workers the same. According to the ILO’s Workers’ Housing Recommendation Convention 1961, reasonable minimum living space per person and access to basic amenities (i.e. electricity, water, sanitary facilities) should be established and specified to ensure an adequate living environment for workers.

What about ‘off-the-job’ risks?

So, what about measures to protect against major uncertainties such as unemployment or obsolete skills? Or uncertainties related to life-cycle events such as illness and ageing? Should provisions against these risks also count towards ‘fair working conditions’

These broad risks affect everyone, not only workers. In fact, the current approach of having laws and initiatives based on outdated employment classification excludes those who do not belong to any category. To plug the coverage gap, we argue for an integrated national social protection system for all, which comprises a universal social safety net, a national social and health insurance and an integrated reskilling policy rather than tying these to employment status as is currently the case.

These policies go beyond a Fair Work Act and speaks to a large-scale rethink of our country’s social protection system, with universal coverage. The pandemic has exposed deep gaps in our current patchwork of social safety nets and talk of comprehensive reforms is becoming more widespread, being taken up even by the central bank. Such reforms should come hand in hand with legislation that defines fair working terms for all employment categories as well.

How should we define fair contracts? We will discuss this in the next instalment of this research series.

Email us your views or suggestions at editorial@centre.my

Perlukah Cubaan Bunuh Diri Terus Dijenayahkan di Malaysia?

Amaran: Artikel ini mengandungi perbincangan mengenai isu bunuh diri yang mungkin mengganggu perasaan pembaca.

Adakah cubaan bunuh diri suatu perbuatan jenayah? Seksyen 309 Kanun Keseksaan mengiyakan persoalan ini. Walau bagaimanapun, mengambil kira pemahaman semasa yang lebih mendalam mengenai kesihatan mental, undang-undang ini mungkin tidak lagi sesuai untuk masyarakat kita hari ini. Waktunya telah tiba untuk kita memikirkan semula implikasi respons perundangan yang mengabaikan konteks kesihatan mental yang mendorong seseorang untuk mengambil atau cuba mengambil nyawa mereka sendiri.

Kami menyeru agar undang-undang ini dimansuhkan dan digantikan oleh pendekatan yang fokusnya ialah untuk menangani penyebab utama bunuh diri, iaitu masalah kesihatan mental. Bagi kami, pendekatan yang berasaskan rawatan, yang cuba menangani masalah kesihatan mental sejak dari peringkat awal, akan dapat menurunkan kadar bunuh diri dalam masyarakat.

Tapi sebelum itu, apa itu Seksyen 309 Kanun Keseksaan dan apakah sejarahnya?

Seksyen 309 Kanun Keseksaan
Barang siapa mencuba melakukan kesalahan membunuh diri, dan melakukan apa-apa perbuatan pada melakukan kesalahan itu, hendaklah dihukum dengan penjara selama tempoh yang boleh sampai setahun, atau dengan denda, atau dengan kedua-duanya.

Cubaan Bunuh Diri Sebagai Satu Jenayah

Seksyen 309 Kanun Keseksaan digubal di Malaya pada tahun 1936 dan merupakan sebahagian daripada warisan zaman kolonial yang masih diguna pakai dalam sistem perundangan Malaysia. Akta ini berasal dari Kanun Keseksaan India yang berdasarkan Common Law British. Pada masa itu, isu kesihatan mental serta punca atau rawatannya belum difahami dengan baik.

Pada masa kini, pengetahuan tentang kesihatan mental telah berkembang dengan signifikan: pemikiran bunuh diri telah dikenal pasti berpunca daripada pelbagai faktor, termasuk tekanan kewangan, kesedihan, kehilangan orang yang tersayang dan banyak lagi. Terdapat pemahaman secara meluas pada hari ini bahawa kemerosotan kesihatan mental seseorang merupakan reaksi terhadap keadaan sosial dan ekonomi mereka.

Sejumlah negara yang lain juga telah menerima pakai Kanun Keseksaan India dalam perundangan mereka. Namun negara-negara tersebut, contohnya Singapura dan Sri Lanka, telah pun memansuhkan atau meminda versi Seksyen 309 masing-masing. Banyak negara di ASEAN juga tidak lagi melihat cubaan bunuh diri sebagai suatu perbuatan jenayah. Walau bagaimanapun, Malaysia masih belum menyusuli langkah perubahan seperti ini.

Pada ketika ini, respons kerajaan Malaysia terhadap cubaan bunuh diri memberikan isyarat yang kurang jelas tentang pendirian mereka tentang isu ini. Di satu pihak, terdapat pandangan (yang sememangnya patut kita ikuti) bahawa cubaan bunuh diri  merupakan satu isu kesihatan mental yang perlu dirawat: Dasar Operasi Rawatan Psikiatri dan Kesihatan Mental Kementerian Kesihatan menyatakan bahawa jika seseorang dirujuk untuk menerima rawatan perubatan kerana cubaan bunuh diri, mereka akan diletakkan di bawah pengawasan yang ketat sehingga mereka disahkan telah berada dalam keadaan stabil dan tidak akan membahayakan diri mereka sendiri.

Sementara itu, kaedah perundangan pula nampaknya tidak mengambil kira aspek kesihatan mental: bagi mereka yang didakwa di bawah Seksyen 309, adalah tidak jelas jika mereka dirujuk untuk menerima rawatan perubatan atau psikologi setelah atau semasa dijatuhkan hukuman. Apabila undang-undang menjenayahkan cubaan bunuh diri, kita akan berdepan dengan situasi di mana orang ramai enggan tampil ke hadapan untuk meminta pertolongan walaupun ia telah tersedia, kerana mereka bimbang akan dihukum jika mereka meminta pertolongan.

Dekriminalisasi Cubaan Bunuh Diri di Malaysia

Walaupun seruan untuk mendekriminalisasikan cubaan bunuh diri semakin kuat, tiada tindakan yang substantif telah diambil. Pada tahun 2012, Jawatankuasa Pembaharuan Undang-Undang kerajaan Malaysia telah mencuba untuk mengkaji semula Seksyen 309. Pada tahun yang sama juga, Menteri Kesihatan telah menyatakan bahawa undang-undang tersebut tidak lagi relevan kerana ia tidak mengambil kira isu kesihatan mental.

Sejak itu, beberapa badan dan NGO seperti Persatuan Kesihatan Mental Malaysia (MMHA), Persatuan Kebangsaan Hak Asasi Manusia (HAKAM), dan Majlis Penasihat Promosi Kesihatan Mental telah berulang kali mendesak kerajaan untuk memansuhkan undang-undang tersebut.

Pada tahun 2019, kerajaan Pakatan Harapan telah menyatakan komitmen untuk meminda Kanun Keseksaan supaya cubaan bunuh diri tidak lagi dikira sebagai suatu perbuatan jenayah. Namun, tiada perbincangan lanjut telah berlaku selepas itu. Walau bagaimanapun, sejak kebelakangan ini tuntutan dekriminalisasi telah dihidupkan semula apabila seorang penganggur dijatuhkan hukuman di bawah Seksyen 309 dan didenda sebanyak RM3,000 kerana cubaan bunuh diri. Walaupun hukuman yang dikenakan ‘hanya’ denda, kes ini tetap menimbulkan persoalan jika bunuh diri patut dianggap sebagai perbuatan jenayah dan bukannya suatu tragedi yang menimpa seseorang.

Keperluan sokongan kesihatan mental

Selaras dengan dekriminalisasi cubaan bunuh diri, kita juga perlu mewujudkan struktur-struktur untuk membantu mereka yang mempunyai pemikiran bunuh diri dan yang menghadapi masalah kesihatan mental. Sekiranya Malaysia ingin mengambil langkah ini, apakah yang kita perlukan? Di sini kami melihat kerangka kesihatan mental yang sedia ada di negara lain yang sama ada telah melaksanakan langkah ini, atau telah mengambil pendekatan yang lebih progresif terhadap kesihatan mental.

Pada awal tahun lepas, Singapura telah mendekriminalisasikan cubaan bunuh diri dengan meminda akta Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act. Pindaan ini menetapkan bahawa individu yang memerlukan bantuan dirujuk kepada ahli professional kesihatan mental, dan pakar-pakar dari pelbagai sektor – kesihatan mental, kesihatan fizikal dan perkhidmatan sosial boleh membuat intervensi kesihatan mental dengan sokongan undang-undang.

Di Ireland, National Office for Suicide Prevention membiayai National Self Harm Registry. Pangkalan data ini membolehkan pihak berkuasa mengenal pasti kejadian mencederakan diri sendiri yang berulang dan menyalurkan rawatan kesihatan mental yang sesuai kepada individu yang terbabit. Model ini sesuai untuk dibangunkan di Malaysia, memandangkan ia akan membolehkan pelbagai agensi dan NGO serta pihak berkuasa mengenal pasti individu yang berisiko serta memantau dan menyediakan bantuan secara berterusan.

Sementara itu, sistem penjagaan kesihatan Thailand menggunakan satu sistem pengawasan dan perawatan. Ini adalah kerangka pelbagai langkah yang merangkumi pemeriksaan, perawatan dan tindakan susulan. Sejak ia mula diperkenalkan pada tahun 2009 sehingga tahun 2016, sistem ini telah dapat diakses oleh 48.5% individu yang mengalami gangguan kemurungan. Sebelum sistem ini diperkenalkan, hanya 3.7% individu yang mengalami gangguan kemurungan telah dapat mengakses perkhidmatan kesihatan mental Thailand.

Mengambil pengajaran daripada pendekatan penjagaan kesihatan mental komuniti seperti di atas, kami berharap suatu sistem di mana individu yang cuba untuk membunuh diri dirujuk oleh pihak berkuasa untuk mendapatkan bantuan kesihatan mental dapat diwujudkan di Malaysia. Dari sini, haruslah juga ada pemantauan yang meluas dan berterusan – ini adalah langkah yang penting kerana risiko cubaan bunuh diri untuk berulang adalah tinggi jika individu terlibat tidak mengikut rawatan yang diterima dengan sepenuhnya. Untuk menjayakan usaha sebegini, penyediaan sumber seperti  dana yang lebih tinggi untuk pekerja sosial dan daftar yang selamat bagi individu yang berisiko mirip National Self-Harm Registry di Ireland harus dipertimbangkan oleh kerajaan.

Program Pusat Kesihatan Mental Masyarakat (MENTARI) oleh Kementerian Kesihatan, yang berfokuskan komuniti, mungkin merupakan platform paling sesuai untuk melaksanakan kerangka seperti ini. Selain menawarkan sokongan kesihatan mental dan jangkauan kesedaran, pusat-pusat MENTARI yang wujud di seluruh negara juga memberi perhatian kepada pengurusan kes-kes yang berisiko untuk membunuh diri. Kajian kes di Timur Tengah telah menunjukkan bahawa pendekatan berasaskan komuniti lebih efektif dalam menangani isu kesihatan mental dan boleh meringankan beban sistem kesihatan yang sedia ada.

Ke Arah Pemansuhan Seksyen 309

Undang-undang baharu dan perubahan kepada undang-undang yang sedia ada boleh menjadi asas bagi perubahan budaya. Sistem perundangan dapat memberi isyarat kepada masyarakat tentang cara yang kerajaan ingin gunakan untuk menangani isu-isu tertentu. Ia juga dapat menjadi barometer penerimaan masyarakat. Lapan tahun telah berlalu sejak Jawatankuasa Pembaharuan Undang-Undang berbicara untuk mengkaji semula Seksyen 309 – bilakah pembuat dasar akan memajukan perbincangan ini?

Juga, tidak cukup untuk kita hanya sekadar bercakap tentang bagaimana cubaan untuk membunuh diri didorong oleh masalah kesihatan mental: pada akhirnya, kita perlu memastikan sistem perundangan mencerminkan aspek ini. Apabila cubaan bunuh diri didekriminalisasikan, kerajaan akan memberi isyarat kepada masyarakat bahawa bunuh diri bukan lagi topik yang tabu, bahawa ia bukan satu jenayah tetapi sebaliknya ialah isu kesihatan mental, dan bahawa cubaan bunuh diri ialah satu jeritan meminta pertolongan. Individu penderita pemikiran bunuh diri dan yang pernah cuba untuk membunuh diri bukanlah mereka yang perlu dihantar ke penjara atau didenda. Sebaliknya mereka ternyata mengalami masalah kesihatan mental yang patut dirawat dengan sebaiknya. Kita boleh menyediakan rawatan yang terbaik jika satu kerangka yang efektif yang berasaskan sifat empati dan rawatan dapat diwujudkan.

Sekiranya anda mengalami tekanan emosi, anda boleh mendapatkan khidmat sokongan daripada Befrienders (24 jam) di talian 03-76272929 secara percuma.

Ke Arah Penggubalan Akta Kerja Adil, Bahagian 1

Sejak sebelum pandemik COVID-19 lagi, kepesatan transformasi digital dan model-model bisnes yang baru telah merubah sifat dan cara bekerja di seluruh dunia. Semakin banyak pekerjaan tidak formal telah diwujudkan, yang bercirikan tugasan secara one-off, waktu kerja yang fleksibel dan syarat kemasukan yang mudah. Di Malaysia, kerja-kerja ini termasuk tetapi tidak terhad kepada ‘gig‘ di platform-platform seperti Grab, Foodpanda dan GoGet.

Pertumbuhan pekerjaan seperti ini belum dapat dicerminkan melalui statistik pekerjaan rasmi. Di Malaysia, seperti yang dilaporkan Jabatan Statistik (DOSM), sesiapa yang diklasifikasikan sebagai ‘pekerja’ (employee) merupakan mereka yang menikmati status pekerjaan yang terbesar dan paling stabil. Sepanjang 20 tahun kebelakangan ini, golongan ini terdiri daripada kira-kira 75% daripada jumlah tenaga kerja di negara ini (Rajah 1).


Rajah 1: Trend Status Pekerjaan *, 1999 hingga 2019

*Definisi Status Pekerjaan DOSM:

Pekerja – Seorang yang bekerja untuk majikan persendirian dan menerima ganjaran tetap seperti upah, gaji, komisen, tip atau upahan yang berbentuk mata benda.

Bekerja sendiri – Seorang yang mengerjakan ladang, perniagaan atau perusahaan sendiri tanpa menggaji pekerja di ladang, perniagaan atau perusahaannya.

Pekerja keluarga tanpa gaji – Seorang yang bekerja tanpa menerima sebarang bayaran atau upah di ladang, perniagaan atau perusahaan yang dijalankan oleh ahli keluarganya yang lain.

Majikan – Seorang yang menjalankan sesuatu perniagaan, perusahaan ladang atau perniagaan lain dan menggaji seorang pekerja atau lebih untuk menolongnya.

Statistik di atas menyamarkan dua isu yang signifikan mengenai pekerjaan di Malaysia. Isu pertama adalah takat pekerjaan tidak formal yang kurang jelas. Jika dilihat secara sepintas lalu, klasifikasi di atas memberikan gambaran seolah-olah majoriti tenaga kerja di Malaysia bekerja secara formal.

Namun, realitinya adalah  sebahagian dari mereka, yang jumlahnya tidak diketahui, terdiri daripada pekerja tidak formal, iaitu seorang yang bekerja untuk majikan swasta, menerima gaji, tetapi berkemungkinan tidak dilindungi oleh kontrak kerja, skim perlindungan sosial, faedah kerja atau hak pekerja. Secara proksi, menggunakan angka perlindungan KWSP, pekerja tidak formal boleh dianggarkan dalam kira–kira 62% dari tenaga kerja kita.

Isu kedua yang kurang jelas dalam statistik pekerjaan ini adalah sifat pekerjaan tidak formal itu sendiri yang sering berubah. Pelbagai proses informalisasi telah berlaku di Malaysia, dari pertumbuhan platform kerja gig, hingga pertumbuhan pekerjaan digital jarak jauh, ke peralihan dari kontrak pekerjaan terbuka ke kontrak sementara atau yang berasaskan projek. Menurut kajian Tinjauan Ekonomi 2021 Malaysia, apa yang dipanggil ‘ekonomi gig’ ini merupakan bidang pertumbuhan yang baharu di negara ini. Walau bagaimanapun, soal sama ada pekerja-pekerja gig adalah usahawan mikro atau pekerja tidak formal masih tidak jelas dan masih belum dibincangkan secara mendalam.


Apakah maksud “Ekonomi Gig”?

Rider penghantaran makanan dan pemandu e-hailing adalah antara pekerjaan yang sering dikaitkan dengan istilah kerja gig. Tapi bagaimana pula dengan tuan rumah Airbnb? Pekerja bebas (freelancer) yang menawarkan perkhidmatan mereka di Fiverr atau Upwork? Lebih jauh lagi, adakah petani dan nelayan yang menjual hasil mereka secara atas talian merupakan pekerja gig juga?

Mengapakah persoalan ini penting? Istilah ‘ekonomi gig’ dan ‘pekerja gig’ seperti yang disebutkan dalam ucapan rasmi, media dan juga dalam dokumen dasar hari ini telah digunakan untuk merangkumi pelbagai jenis pekerjaan, dan lebih penting lagi, pelbagai jenis hubungan antara pekerja dan majikan. Walaupun kami bersetuju bahawa ada keperluan untuk menangani masalah yang dihadapi oleh pekerja gig, kami juga berpendapat bahawa penggubal dasar perlu menjelaskan siapakah yang dimaksudkan sebagai pekerja berkenaan.

Kami juga berpandangan bahawa dalam usaha menjelaskan definisi ini, konsep dan rangka kerja semasa yang berkaitan dengan status pekerjaan perlu dikemaskinikan.

Apa yang membezakan pekerja gig dengan istilah masa lalu yang digunakan untuk merujuk kepada pekerja tidak formal, seperti istilah ‘berasaskan perusahaan’ (contohnya pekerja bekerja sendiri, pekerja bebas, usahawan mikro, solopreneur) atau istilah ‘berasaskan tenaga pekerja’ (contohnya pekerja sementara atau pekerja kasual)? Bagi kami perbezaannya adalah dari segi hubungan kuasa antara pekerja dan majikan* atau sifat sesuatu pekerjaan. Bagi kami hubungan kuasa antara pekerja dan mana-mana majikan atau entiti pekerjaan harus menjadi kriteria teras dalam inisiatif untuk merangka perundangan dan dasar berkenaan pekerja yang baharu.

*Catatan: Dari sini, istilah ‘majikan’ akan digunakan sebagai singkatan (dan bukan sebagai istilah perundangan) untuk merujuk kepada pihak yang  mengupah tenaga kerja atau yang menjadi perantara yang menyediakan peluang pekerjaan.


Peri pentingnya hubungan kuasa dalam pekerjaan

Hubungan kuasa antara majikan dan pekerja dapat dilihat dari segi tahap kawalan yang dipunyai oleh majikan ke atas keadaan kerja serta tahap kebergantungan pekerja terhadap majikan untuk memastikan kelangsungan hidup mereka. Rangka kerja ini telah dicadangkan dalam kajian oleh Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose UCL pada Julai 2020 sebagai satu cara untuk memahami hubungan kuasa dalam pekerjaan dan sebagai satu rangka kerja untuk mengklasifikasikan status pekerjaan (Rajah 2).

Rajah 2: Rangka Kerja Hubungan Kuasa dalam Pekerjaan

Pekerja yang berdepan dengan tahap kawalan yang tinggi terhadap banyak aspek penting pekerjaan mereka (seperti waktu bekerja, gaji bersih maksimum dan laporan kerja) dan yang sangat bergantung kepada majikan (contohnya untuk mendapatkan sebahagian besar gaji bersih) boleh dikategorikan sebagai pekerja tetap, tidak kira sama ada terdapat perjanjian rasmi atau tidak.

Sebaliknya, mereka yang bekerja dengan sedikit atau tanpa kawalan majikan dan yang tidak terikat dengan hanya satu majikan bagi menjana sebahagian besar pendapatan mereka boleh dikategorikan sebagai kontraktor bebas.

Pekerja yang terletak di antara kategori ‘pekerja tetap’ dan ‘kontraktor bebas’ inilah yang telah menimbulkan cabaran terbesar kepada proses pembuatan dasar pada masa ini. Ditermakan sebagai kontraktor “bergantung” (“reliant atau “dependent”) oleh penyelidik UCL, perbezaan hubungan kuasa antara pekerja ini tidak digambarkan dan difahami dengan jelas pada masa ini. Hal ini boleh menyebabkan pelabelan atau pengkategorian yang tidak sesuai.

Menilai status pekerjaan melalui lensa hubungan kuasa juga bermakna cara kita mengkategorikan pekerja perlu lebih mendalam daripada hanya mengambil kira jumlah jam bekerja, jenis kontrak atau definisi pekerjaan. Pekerja yang melakukan aktiviti pekerjaan yang sama tidak semestinya mempunyai status pekerjaan yang sama kerana mungkin terdapat tahap kawalan dan pergantungan yang berbeza dalam pekerjaan itu.

Cuba kita ambil rider penghantaran sebagai contoh. Ada dari mereka yang diupah oleh syarikat kurier yang mengenakan syarat yang ketat dari segi waktu bekerja, tempoh notis, kebebasan untuk bekerja di tempat lain, dan parameter tugasan lain yang menyekat autonomi dan keupayaan mereka untuk mempelbagaikan pendapatan. Golongan ini semestinya perlu dikategorikan sebagai ‘pekerja tetap’ disebabkan kadar kawalan dan pergantungan yang terdapat dalam hubungan antara mereka dan majikan.

Rider penghantaran yang menawarkan perkhidmatan mereka kepada pelanggan secara langsung, baik dengan cara pengiklanan secara fizikal mahupun di halaman Facebook, secara asasnya  adalah ‘kontraktor bebas’ yang mempunyai tahap kawalan yang tinggi terhadap kebanyakan aspek pekerjaan mereka. Sebaliknya, rider penghantaran yang mendapat pekerjaan melalui syarikat platform gig yang mengawal sebahagian tetapi bukan semua aspek pekerjaan seperti peruntukan tugas, akses kepada pelanggan akhir, etika pakaian dan lain-lain, lebih sesuai dikategorikan sebagai ‘kontraktor bergantung’.

Apabila lensa hubungan kuasa antara pekerja dan majikan diaplikasikan pada pekerjaan yang biasanya dikaitkan dengan ‘ekonomi gig’, kita akan dapat melihat kepelbagaian dalam hubungan ini untuk aktiviti pekerjaan yang sama (Rajah 3).


Rajah 3: Kerja ‘Gig’ Tipikal dan Kebarangkalian Status Pekerjaan (Ilustrasi)

Pemahaman mengenai hubungan kuasa yang mendasari sesuatu jenis pekerjaan adalah adalah sangat penting, kerana hubungan kuasa yang berbeza menghasilkan keperluan dan isu-isu pekerja yang berbeza. Memahami hubungan kuasa juga penting untuk menentukan pembahagian tanggungjawab antara tenaga kerja, majikan dan kerajaan.

Bagi pekerja tetap sepenuh masa, jelas bahawa majikan perlu menjamin pendaftaran dan sumbangan ke dalam skim perlindungan sosial, tetapi bagaimana pula dengan kontraktor bergantung? Perlukah tanggungjawab tersebut dipikul oleh pekerja seperti dalam kes kontraktor bebas?

Persoalan mengenai apakah tahap hak dan faedah pekerja yang adil sebagai pertukaran dengan tahap kawalan yang tertentu (dan tanggungjawab siapa untuk menyediakan hak dan faedah tersebut) merupakan sebab utama kami menyeru supaya perbincangan yang menyentuh isu-isu pokok diadakan dan pada akhirnya, satu Akta Kerja Adil digubal.


Dari hubungan kuasa ke Akta Kerja Adil

Mengapakah kita perlukan ‘Akta Kerja Adil’ dan bukannya ‘Akta Pekerja Gig’ seperti yang dilaporkan sedang dipertimbangkan oleh kerajaan? Dalam bahagian di atas, kami telah menghujahkan tentang keperluan untuk memahami hubungan kuasa antara tenaga kerja dan majikan dalam lanskap pekerjaan semasa terlebih dahulu. Hujah yang seterusnya untuk menyokong seruan kami ke arah Akta Kerja Adil yang meluas menyentuh persoalan sama ada undang-undang semasa adalah mencukupi untuk kita mendepani cabaran kepelbagaian jenis pekerjaan dan hubungan kuasa di Malaysia. Juga, bolehkah undang-undang semasa menghuraikan dengan jelas apakah prinsip-prinsip yang akan mengawal selia hubungan kuasa yang berlainan ini secara adil? Jawapan kami ialah tidak, melainkan ada pengubahsuaian yang ketara.

Pertama sekali, perlu ditekankan di sini bahawa kedua-dua klasifikasi tenaga kerja yang sedia ada tidak mencukupi. Ketika ini, anda sama ada pekerja formal (sepenuh masa atau separuh masa*) yang dikawal selia oleh Akta Kerja 1955 dan undang-undang lain yang berkaitan, atau kontraktor yang bergantung pada Akta Pekerjaan Sendiri 2017 dan Akta Kontrak 1950 (Rajah 4). Masih tiada klasifikasi yang merangkum hubungan kuasa yang dialami oleh golongan pekerja yang ketiga yang jumlahnya semakin berkembang, iaitu kontraktor bergantung.


*Catatan: Walaupun undang-undang dan peraturan semasa meliputi pekerja separuh masa, klasifikasi ini sukar untuk dilaksanakan secara praktikal.


Rajah 4: Undang-Undang Semasa Bagi Pekerja Malaysia

Kedua, premis mengenai status pekerjaan dan juga perundangan semasa terlalu bergantung pada andaian formalisasi, iaitu soal sama ada seseorang mempunyai kontrak pekerjaan atau didaftarkan sebagai pekerja bekerja sendiri. Memahami dan mengambil kira status pekerjaan dalam konteks yang menguji tahap kawalan majikan dan pergantungan pekerja merupakan cara yang lebih tepat untuk mengklasifikasikan pekerja berbanding hanya melihat kepada kewujudan kontrak pekerjaan sebagai kompas untuk mengenal pasti status pekerja (Rajah 5).


Rajah 5: Perbandingan Definisi ‘Pekerja’

Di Malaysia, kita perlulah berwaspada apabila kita merangka klasifikasi pekerja. Dengan menerapkan lensa hubungan kuasa, pemahaman yang lebih kukuh dan tersusun mengenai kepelbagaian status pekerjaan semasa akan dapat dikembangkan. Lebih penting lagi, dengan pemahaman yang jelas mengenai hubungan kuasa yang mendasari kelas-kelas pekerjaan yang berlainan, kita akan boleh bincangkan secara terbuka tentang apakah faedah-faedah yang secara adil harus diberikan oleh pihak majikan dan kerajaan kepada pekerja berdasarkan klasifikasi mereka.

Persoalan seterusnya di sini ialah apakah keadaan kerja yang adil bila kita mengambil kira perihal hubungan kuasa dalam pekerjaan? Sebagai jawapan, kami merujuk kepada Fair Work Initiative, satu pusat sumber ekonomi digital yang dibangunkan Oxford Internet Institute, yang menyarankan lima prinsip utama kerja adil, iaitu: gaji yang adil, keadaaan kerja yang adil, kontrak yang adil, pengurusan yang adil, dan perwakilan yang adil (Rajah 6).


Rajah 6: Prinsip-Prinsip Kerja Adil

Gabungan prinsip kerja yang adil dengan rangka kerja hubungan kuasa akan membantu penggubal dasar untuk menetapkan peraturan pekerjaan yang paling sesuai bagi setiap klasifikasi pekerjaan. Apakah peruntukan minimum ‘kerja adil’ yang perlu diberi kepada pekerja tetap, sama ada formal atau tidak formal? Apakah peruntukan minimum ‘kerja adil’ yang perlu diberi kepada kontraktor bebas berbanding dengan kontraktor bergantung?

Dalam bahagian seterusnya siri penyelidikan ini, kami akan mencadangkan contoh prinsip kerja adil bagi tiga klasifikasi pekerjaan utama yang telah kami huraikan, iaitu pekerja tetap, kontraktor bebas dan kontraktor bergantung.


Perundangan dan kerangka dasar harus dikemas kini secara seiringan

Ketika artikel ini ditulis, beberapa negara termasuk Perancis, Sepanyol dan Belanda telah mengklasifikasikan semula sebahagian pekerja gig tidak formal mereka sebagai pekerja tetap. Walaubagaimanapun, sebab di sebalik tindakan ini diambil tidak sama antara negara-negara tersebut – ianya sangat bergantung pada definisi tempatan istilah ‘pekerja tetap’, ‘kontraktor’ dan ‘pekerja gig’, selain faktor–faktor yang lain. Dalam beberapa keadaan, definisi yang terlalu luas untuk istilah ‘pekerja gig’ telah membawa akibat yang tidak dijangka; dalam kes di California misalnya, ramai pekerja bebas kehilangan pekerjaan mereka setelah undang-undang AB 5 diluluskan, kerana ‘majikan’ mereka tidak mampu mengklasifikasikan semula mereka sebagai pekerja tetap sebagaimana yang dimandatkan oleh undang-undang baru tersebut (yang sejak itu telah dibatalkan).

Malaysia harus mengamati dan mengambil iktibar dari keputusan mahkamah seperti di atas. Perkara utama dari segi dasar yang perlu diputuskan tidak semestinya berkaitan persoalan sama ada untuk memformalkan pekerja atau mengadakan undang-undang khusus untuk pekerja gig. Sebaliknya, kita perlu jelas apa yang kita maksudkan dengan klasifikasi pekerjaan kita bagi membolehkan ia merangkumi persekitaran pekerjaan yang dinamik dan sering berubah di Malaysia. Hanya dengan cara ini kita akan dapat memperbaiki atau merapatkan jurang dalam undang-undang semasa untuk menjamin kerja yang adil bagi pekerja hari ini dan membantu mereka yang telah ketinggalan.

Keputusan penting Mahkamah Agung UK mengenai Uber pada bulan Februari yang lalu memberikan contoh instruktif klasifikasi pekerjaan yang  (i) berdasarkan hubungan kuasa dan (ii) mengatasi dikotomi antara pekerja dan kontraktor bebas.

Berikutan tuntutan yang difailkan oleh sekumpulan bekas e-hailer Uber, Mahkamah Agung UK memutuskan untuk mengklasifikasikan semula sekumpulan 40,000 pemandu Uber UK sebagai “pekerja” yang berhak mendapat gaji minimum, cuti bergaji dan faedah yang lain. Ini disebabkan amalan pihak pengurusan Uber sepanjang tempoh perkhidmatan bekas pemandu-pemandu e-hailer berkenaan yang tidak membenarkan pekerja untuk merundingkan tambang dan mengakses maklumat tugasan sebelum mereka menerima sesuatu tugasan. Terdapat dua aspek yang mustahak untuk diperhatikan dalam keputusan ini:

(i) Kepentingan hubungan kuasa. Keputusan itu hanya melibatkan kumpulan pemandu e-hailing Uber tertentu yang bekerja dengan Uber sebelum tahun 2016 yang terjejas oleh kerana dasar syarikat yang menyebabkan autonomi pekerjaan lebih rendah berbanding dengan kumpulan pemandu Uber yang kemudian.

(ii) Klasifikasi yang ‘ketiga’. Keputusan itu mengklasifikasikan pemandu e-hailing yang terjejas sebagai ‘pekerja’ (‘workers’), satu status yang mencerminkan tahap fleksibiliti yang lebih tinggi berbanding ‘pekerja tetap’ (‘employees‘). Walau bagaimanapun, status ini tetap tertakluk pada peruntukan hak dan faedah seperti yang dinyatakan oleh undang-undang pekerja UK.

Bagaimanakah kita boleh menentukan gaji yang adil bagi setiap klasifikasi pekerjaan? Nantikan bahagian seterusnya dari siri penyelidikan ini.