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 via judicial ruling can also generate frequent policy reversals via court battles. 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.


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.

Hartal Doktor Kontrak And The Government Contract Worker Issue

Amidst a deadly surge of COVID-19 cases and the attendant exhaustion of frontline health workers, two grassroots campaigns under the names Code Black and Hartal Doktor Kontrak are demanding fairer treatment – including job security – for government contract doctors.

The seriousness of the issue is underscored by its escalation:  campaigners have called for a national strike on 26 July 2021 while individual campaign supporters have been called in by the police for questioning. Meanwhile, the government has responded with what appears to be a temporary solution to address some of the campaigns’ demands.

These campaigns powerfully illustrate a critical problem we are currently researching, which arise when employment categories do not reflect the nature of the job commitment and are also not matched up to fair working terms. In this primer, we unpack the problem from the government contract worker perspective.

The Growth of Contract Doctors

At the time of writing, the Malaysian Ministry of Health (MOH) employs nearly 270,000 permanent public service workers, of which 150,000 to 160,000 are healthcare workers. The number of permanent employees at MOH has remained relatively stable as shown in Figure 1 below, decreasing marginally from 268,712 people in 2016 to 267,733 people in 2021. However, MOH’s expenditure on emoluments rose in that time period, from RM13.45 billion to RM17.08 billion. 

Much of that is contributed by emoluments to contract workers. As per Figure 1 below, the upward trend in MOH’s contract worker emoluments, from RM78.83 million in 2016 (or 1% of total MOH emoluments) to RM1.90 billion in 2021 (11% of total MOH emoluments), point to the rising number of contract workers within the ministry. According to a past report, MOH has the highest expenditure on contract workers compared to other government ministries. 

Figure 1: Breakdown of MOH Worker Emoluments vs. Number of MOH Permanent Workers, 2016 to 2021

Since the implementation of the contract system for healthcare workers in late 2016, the number of contract doctors has grown more than nine times, from 2,544 doctors to about 23,000 people in 2021. This is partially due to the glut in number of medical graduates, partially to rules governing medical graduate placement, and partially to constraints in the government’s budget for permanent workers (more on that later).

The oversupply of medical graduates has caused overcrowding of doctor trainees at public hospitals, but the regulation on their medical placements is also a contributing factor. According to the Medical Act 1971 (Amendment 2012), the government has to provide industrial training placements for all medical graduates intending to practise medicine in Malaysia before they can be fully registered as licensed practitioners.

Medical graduates can be placed either as contract junior doctors or, more unlikely, as permanent junior doctors. Contract junior doctors are offered a five-year contract divided into three years of housemanship and two years as a junior medical officer, whereas permanent junior doctors become permanent public service workers. Upon completing the five-year term, most contract doctors have to seek new job opportunities elsewhere whereas permanent doctors may choose to continue their employment with the government or leave for the private sector.

The government has the option to convert contract doctors to permanent government doctors if a position becomes available in the public healthcare system. However, there are severe budgetary limitations on the number of doctors, or other occupations for that matter, that the government may take on as permanent staff. For example, to fulfil the demands of the Code Black and Hartal Doktor Kontrak campaigns to become permanent doctors, the government has estimated that it will cost an additional RM2 billion (we infer annually), which is around 12% of MOH’s annual emoluments expenditure today. As permanent public service workers are also eligible to receive a lifetime pension, even this number may be an underestimate.

As of the time of writing, only 3.41% of all contract doctors have landed a permanent position at MOH. More than two-thirds of those who began their service in 2016 have completed their five-year contract and have yet to secure a permanent placement elsewhere. The MOH currently offers its contract doctors a one-off one-year contract extension to meet the demands for healthcare workers during the pandemic. More recently, in response to the Code Black and Hartal Doktor Kontrak, the government has promised a maximum of four years’ contract extension and paid study leave for all contract medical officers and other contract healthcare professionals.

Issue 1: Creation Of A New Problem To Avoid An Old Difficult Problem

Taking on workers on a contract basis has become increasingly important in government recruitment as a way to cope with rising expenditure. Hiring full-time employees into the public service is extremely costly, in terms of emoluments but particularly in terms of pensions.

Over the last decade, the government has kept about the same number of permanent public service workers (Figure 2) while the number of pensioners increased from 617,637 people in 2011 to 834,484 people in 2019. And yet the share of public spending on emolument, pension and gratuities of the total budget has surged from 27% of total expenditure in 2011 to 36% in 2021. As per Figure 2 below, between 2011 and 2021 federal government spending on emoluments has increased from RM45.56 billion to RM84.53 billion while pensions have jumped from RM12.26 billion to RM27.53 billion. 

Figure 2: Federal Government Spending on Emoluments and Pensions vs. Number of Permanent Public Service Workers, 2011 to 2021

Recruiting workers under contract has provided some breathing space for the government (and taxpayers) in terms of budget control, particularly in avoiding a hefty pension bill down the line. However, there is no indication whether this is a stop-gap measure or essentially a permanent solution to government hiring. If it is the latter, then it will become a significant problem and the current campaigns by the contract junior doctors will just be the beginning of more to come.

Instead of recruiting full-time permanent employees, the government could continue to hire contract workers whose employment terms can be extended repeatedly if needed. In many cases, junior doctors being one of them, this creates a double standard between two classes of workers who essentially perform the same function and who have the same job demands. The existence of two worker classes which are so closely comparable is unsustainable, and will be continuously tested by demands for fairness and parity until the difference in employment terms and entitlements between permanent employees and contract workers is meaningfully addressed.

Issue 2: Employment Category Does Not Reflect Work Commitment

The term ‘contract’ indicates a level of job flexibility and worker independence compared to permanent full-time employees. Flexibility and independence can be the case for experienced medical consultants, but not really for fresh house officers or junior medical officers. The employment demands on contract and permanent doctors who are performing their five-year industrial training placement is practically identical.

Despite having similar job scopes and level of job autonomy as permanent doctors of the same tenure, contract doctors have a lower salary and a lower set of benefits. Figure 3 below shows the difference in salaries and benefits between contract doctors and permanent doctors.

Figure 3: Difference in Salaries and Benefits between Contract Doctors and Permanent Doctors

Since contract doctors have the same responsibilities and workloads as permanent doctors, they appear to be misclassified and their employment status does not reflect their job nature and level of autonomy at work. Going by the principles of the Fair Work Act mentioned in our past article, they should be qualified for the same pay and same benefits as permanent doctors. Admittedly though, changing the employment status of contract doctors is a difficult decision due to the hefty costs of permanent public sector workers’ entitlements or compensation, as mentioned earlier.

Path to resolution complex and politically difficult, but needed

Addressing the issue of government contract workers requires a major change in policy, not only in defining what ‘contract worker’ means but also in rationalising the entitlements or compensation of permanent public sector employees.

It is estimated that the spending for emolument, pension and gratuities could take up to 60% of total government revenue by 2026 if nothing changes. At some point, the government of the day will need to take the extremely difficult decision of pruning the pension entitlements for new permanent public sector employees and replacing it with a defined contribution retirement plan. This is already being done for full-time employees of statutory agencies; the coverage will need to be extended to all levels and government entities in order to rein in costs. The notion of ‘lifetime’ job guarantee for public service workers would also have to change.

Update: Maybe the above is not as politically difficult as we believed. On 27 July 2021, the Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah announced a special task force led by the Malaysian Medical Association and the Health Ministry to study amending the Pension Act towards converting pensions to EPF contributions. If successful, this would make the prospect of offering permanent positions to contract doctors much more affordable to government coffers.

At the same time, the employment classification for government contract workers also needs to be redefined and updated. Employment classifications should reflect the nature of the job and the level of worker autonomy, which we have written about as part of our exploration of fair work principles. An ‘independent contract worker’ should have significantly higher levels of job autonomy and flexibility than a full-time employee. If the government intends to maintain hiring via contracts (while streamlining permanent workers’ entitlements), then the government should at least reclassify contract workers without much working hour flexibility or job autonomy to be ‘dependent contractors, qualifying for commensurate pay and other benefits.

It must be said however that the measures above would still not be able to answer contract junior doctors’ demands for a permanent government job when there is a major differential between the supply of medical graduates and the number of available positions in the public sector. Greater coordination and transparency between the government and medical schools could help to manage the gap between supply and demand. Allowing placements in private hospitals could also alleviate the burden on the government in providing training opportunities

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

Managing Online Hate Speech In Malaysia Requires Detecting It

The Atlanta shooting that killed six Asian women earlier this year took place on the back of rising anti-Asian online content in the US. Hateful slurs blaming Asians for the outbreak of COVID-19, along with degrading caricatures and memes of the community, had reportedly surged in far-right social media forums in the months leading up to the attack. 

Online hate speech or hateful content has become a major concern in societies around the world. There is a growing trend where audiences convene around such content in online spaces, and develop or strengthen biases against other groups. The risks of online hate speech leading to violence has been well researched, but there are also broader risks to inter-group trust and cohesion.

Elsewhere, some progress.

There is now more attention than ever among governments and civil societies on finding ways to counter hate speech. At the time of writing, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had just issued a warning to social media giants to remove racial abuse from their platforms or face steep fines. 

Driven by dramatic events, hate speech detection and removal became an urgent issue for social media companies relatively recently, with more companies implementing changes to relevant policies and targeted actions. Facebook and Twitter, for example, updated policies to describe the varying severities of hate speech disallowed on their respective platforms. These companies, alongside Snapchat, have also imposed sanctions against Donald Trump for his role in inciting the Capitol Hill riot

We laud these developments. For Malaysia, we have also argued for an effective response to hateful content, backed by a localised understanding of what constitutes hate speech in our society’s context. Following a pioneering study which we published last year, we also proposed a cohesive framework for defining, categorising and responding to the range of hate speech intensity in the country.

But how do we define, categorise and respond to something that we do not gather? Efforts to manage online hateful content of varying seriousness needs to start with consistent detection of its trends on social media, which can then feed into further work on determining its seriousness, impact and appropriate response.

From humans to machines… gradually

Detecting online hate speech is usually a labour-intensive endeavour, relying on human moderators – whether volunteers or paid workers – to process and filter large volumes of online content. There are obvious issues with this, not least the sheer volume of new online content generated on a daily basis. Relying on human moderators also requires investment in a sufficiently diverse team of humans with local knowledge, which not many companies or regulators would be willing to do. Moreover, as their job involves reviewing unsavoury content, moderation can be a distressing experience for human moderators. 

To overcome those issues, and with COVID-19 sweeping across the world*, social media platforms have been looking into increasing automation in moderation processes. Last year, Facebook and YouTube moved towards prioritising AI over human moderation, but there are some challenges to iron out.

*Human moderators, whose work is normally carried out within company facilities due to the sensitive nature of the content that they monitor, were sent home as a result of the pandemic, forcing the tech giants to rely instead on algorithms.

The AI models are, as yet, far from perfect. In a study by the University of Oxford and the Alan Turing Institute published last month, some systems were found to be overly lenient (failing to detect variations of hate speech), while others were overly tough (detecting non-hateful posts mentioning hateful words). 

These issues stem from the different ways an AI model is trained to detect hateful content. One approach is by training a machine learning model with given keywords and/or simple templates of expressions before applying it to online content. Some systems that were trained with only keywords would inevitably disregard the intricacies of language. Many expressions may not be inherently offensive, but can be so in the right context and phrasing. And of course, the keywords and templates put together in the training set for the AI are also limited by the diversity of the humans behind its design.

Current AI-driven detection, therefore, still comes with problems and there will still be a role for human moderators. It is crucial to work on improving AI models though since relying on human moderation on its own will not be effective, efficient or even humane. Continued improvement of automated online hate speech detection will require not only better technology but also better design. 

A Malaysia-based online hate detection initiative

For an effective partnership between AI and humans, the quality of data being fed into AI is important; when the AI is trained with local contexts, language, and dialect, it can identify or detect hate speech more accurately. Certain organisations that offer detection services for others have been doing this; PeaceTech Lab and Hatebase, for example, rely on NGOs and experts to detect what is considered potentially dangerous in local contexts though the work is prioritised on conflict zones.

There has yet to be any large-scale hate speech detection initiative in Malaysia, a country where highly racial and religious views at varying levels of hate are rife. In cases where hate speech occurs, the burden either falls on victims to escalate their concerns, or on authorities to interpret punitive legislation with overly-broad definitions of hate speech. 

Building on our research last year, The Centre is working on a hate speech detection initiative in Malaysia by pairing AI with human moderators who are familiar with the local context. This initiative, a proof-of-concept hate speech tracker, will act as a repository of trends and themes for online hateful content in the country. 

The tracker will become a useful resource centre for the general public and policymakers. For the public, it may serve as a means to better understand the degree and nature of intergroup tensions. For policymakers, it may be useful as a means to monitor how terms and themes that are potentially dangerous towards groups of people evolve. This could help policymakers identify more effective mechanisms to manage online hate speech and update current policy responses. 

Detecting online hate speech, however, should not come at the expense of free speech. Critics of online content moderation have rightfully pointed out that efforts to manage hate speech can potentially be abused to silence dissenting views. Some hate speech monitoring organisations have tried to address this concern. Hatebase, for instance, tracks hate speech trends but at the same time is against government censorship of speech except for clear incitement to violence. 

As an organisation, we also value the importance of upholding free speech in Malaysia while balancing it with the responsibilities of living in a multiracial society. To uphold this principle, content identified as hateful would need to meet a published threshold of harm or seriousness before getting flagged, a topic which we researched last year by gathering Malaysians’ perceptions on various speech samples’ intensity. We will also not be signposting or showcasing individual tweets, but only present trends and themes.

Detect, analyse, mitigate

There has yet to be a perfect tool or system that can reliably detect online hate speech in the world. Initiatives to detect online hate speech need to be complemented with continuous learning of local context to catch up with the ever-evolving social, cultural and political environment. 

And yes, detecting online hate speech is only the first step. Understanding the root causes of different forms of hate in a society is also vital in managing potential inter-group conflict. With detection and better understanding, appropriate action can be taken to mitigate the impact of hate speech in various spheres of society — be it in chat groups, comment sections, or real-life conversations between people.

Penularan COVID-19 dalam Penjara yang Sesak dan Peranan Undang-Undang Dadah di Malaysia

Daripada enam penjara di Malaysia yang dilanda wabak Covid-19 Oktober tahun lalu, empat telah didapati beroperasi dengan kapasiti berlebihan. Sehingga 3 November 2020, penjara-penjara di Malaysia dilaporkan menampung lebih dari 40% daripada kapasiti yang disyorkan, iaitu 46,420 orang. Beberapa penjara berada dalam situasi yang genting. Penjara Alor Setar, misalnya, telah dilaporkan beroperasi dengan kapasiti dua kali ganda.

Wabak COVID-19 telah mendedahkan pelbagai permasalahan jangka panjang dalam masyarakat, termasuk isu kesesakan di dalam penjara-penjara kita. Penularan virus ini di dalam penjara, yang telah digambarkan ibarat bom jangka (ticking timebombs) oleh Ahli Parlimen Permatang Pauh, Nurul Izzah, telah membawa kepada pengetahuan umum dua lagi isu yang berkaitan: penjara-penjara kita berada dalam keadaan tidak sanitari dan usang

* Sebelum ini kami telah menulis mengenai kesan kesesakan tempat tinggal kepada pekerja asing di Malaysia, yang boleh dibaca di sini.

Untuk mengawal kluster COVID-19 di dalam penjara, Kementerian Dalam Negeri (KDN) telah mengumumkan pada 15 Disember 2020 bahawa 10,000 penghuni telah dihantar ke pusat pemulihan manakala 11,000 pendatang tanpa izin akan dihantar pulang ke negara asal tahun ini. Isu ini juga telah menarik perhatian Parlimen. Akhir tahun lepas, Kumpulan Rentas Parti Parlimen Malaysia Mengenai Reformasi Penjara Dan Tempat Tahanan Awam (KRPPM), satu usaha bersama antara Dewan Rakyat dan Dewan Negara, telah dibentuk khusus untuk menangani isu kesesakan penjara.

Kesesakan penjara ialah suatu isu yang rumit dan merangkumi pelbagai aspek. KRPPM dan KDN dijangka akan meneliti pelbagai jalan penyelesaian, termasuk peruntukan tambahan untuk membaik pulih infrastruktur penjara. Walau bagaimanapun, kita harus berwaspada jika ada kemahuan dalam kalangan penggubal dasar untuk menambah bilangan penjara sebagai solusi. Sebaliknya, cadangan kami ialah supaya pihak penggubal dasar menyelesaikan satu isu yang mendesak dan sangat relevan, iaitu hukuman keterlaluan bagi kesalahan kecil berkaitan dadah yang telah menjadi penyumbang besar kepada kesesakan penjara.

Perlukah penjara disesakkan dengan pesalah kecil?

Pakar-pakar kesihatan awam telah memberi amaran mengenai risiko yang boleh ditimbulkan oleh COVID-19 dan penjara yang sesak. Menurut Sandra Chu, Pengarah Penyelidikan Research and Advocacy at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, pemenjaraan pesalah bagi dakwaan memiliki kuantiti dadah yang kecil akan mencetuskan bahaya dalam musim pandemik. Atas kebimbangan ini, Dainius Pūras, seorang Pelapor Khas (Special Rapporteur) Pertubuhan Bangsa-Bangsa Bersatu (PBB), telah mencadangkan tindakan sejauh penguatkuasaan moratorium pelaksanaan undang-undang yang menjenayahkan penggunaan dan pemilikan dadah bagi mengurangkan risiko penularan COVID-19.

Situasi di Malaysia, di mana wujud populasi penjara yang tinggi, menyokong kebimbangan di atas. Populasi pesalah dadah yang ramai di penjara juga bukanlah suatu perkara yang baharu dan memeranjatkan. Hal ini disebabkan oleh undang-undang dadah yang keras di Malaysia. Dianggarkan dua pertiga tahanan di penjara Malaysia adalah mereka yang disabitkan atas kesalahan berkaitan dadah.

Pada masa ini, pesalah dadah yang dipenjarakan merangkumi pelbagai kumpulan, dari pengedar, hingga individu yang disabitkan kerana memiliki dadah, hingga mereka yang kebetulan didapati positif dadah dalam ujian air kencing. Pakar psikiatri Dr Sivakumar Thurairajasingam apabila di temubual oleh CodeBlue menyatakan bahawa pegawai perubatan awam akan dengan segera menganggap suspek pengguna dadah sebagai seseorang yang ‘bergantung’ kepada dadah jika keputusan ujiannya positif, walaupun itu adalah kali pertama suspek tersebut mencuba bahan narkotik. Hal ini menunjukkan bahawa pada masa ini ianya agak mudah untuk seseorang disabitkan kesalahan berkaitan dadah. Kesalahan memiliki dadah tidak tegar seperti ganja dalam kuantiti yang kecil juga boleh menyebabkan seseorang dihantar ke penjara.

Hukuman untuk kesalahan kecil berkaitan dadah di Malaysia

Pemilikan dadah:
Di bawah Akta Dadah Berbahaya, seseorang yang didapati memiliki kuantiti dadah di bawah 5-gram biji popi atau ganja boleh dikenakan hukuman penjara hingga 5 tahun atau denda maksimum RM20,000, atau kedua-duanya sekali.

Penggunaan dadah: Terdapat dua undang-undang pada masa ini memperuntukkan hukuman bagi penggunaan dadah, iaitu Akta Dadah Berbahaya dan Akta Penagih Dadah (Rawatan dan Pemulihan). Di bawah Akta Dadah Berbahaya, pengguna dadah dikenakan denda maksimum RM5,000 dan hukuman penjara hingga dua tahun, sementara di bawah Akta Penagih Dadah (Rawatan dan Pemulihan), pengguna dadah dikenakan pemulihan wajib serta pengawasan untuk empat tahun.

Menurut Seksyen 38 (B) Akta Dadah Berbahaya, pengguna dadah terlebih dahulu harus menjalani hukuman di bawah Seksyen 15 akta yang sama, sebelum menjalani pengawasan di bawah Akta Penagih Dadah (Rawatan dan Pemulihan).

Penularan wabak COVID-19 di penjara nampaknya telah mendesak pihak berkuasa mengambil tindakan untuk membetulkan masalah pemenjaraan berlebihan pesalah dadah di Malaysia. Jabatan Penjara telah menyusun langkah-langkah mitigasi termasuk memindahkan 2,800 pesalah kecil berkaitan dadah ke fasiliti sementara, dan telah memohon supaya yang lain ditempatkan di perimeter penjara agar mereka dapat dipulihkan, atau direhabilitasi.

Langkah-langkah ini jelas adalah solusi yang sementara. Selain daripada pemindahan tahanan ke kemudahan sementara secara ad hoc, apa yang diperlukan adalah kaedah untuk menangani kesesakan penjara yang lebih tersusun. Penyelesaian yang lebih mantap dan berteraskan objektif jangka panjang adalah diperlukan untuk pesalah jenayah kecil, terutamanya yang berkaitan dadah. Harus diingatkan di sini bahawa kira-kira dua pertiga dari populasi penjara di Malaysia sekarang terdiri dari pesalah dadah. Untuk ilustrasi, jika kita menganggap hanya separuh daripada jumlah itu terdiri daripada pesalah kecil berkaitan dadah (jumlahnya mungkin lebih tinggi; pada tahun 2017, 56% banduan dilaporkan dipenjara kerana kesalahan ini), dengan hanya menyingkirkan bahagian tersebut kita boleh mengurangkan kepadatan penghuni di empat buah penjara yang telah menjadi kluster penularan wabak COVID-19 seperti yang digambarkan dibawah:

Sumber: Jawapan Parlimen oleh Menteri Dalam Negeri pada 17 Jun 2019; Kenyataan Media oleh Ketua Pengarah Penjara Malaysia pada 6 Oktober 2020. Pengiraan mudah oleh The Centre. Populasi Penjara di Malaysia sehingga Jun 2019.

Perjalanan yang panjang ke arah sistem pemulihan

Rasional dan keberkesanan undang-undang dadah Malaysia telah mula dipersoalkan, terutamanya untuk kesalahan kecil. Sebelum pandemik COVID-19 melanda setiap pelusuk dunia, telah pun wujud permintaan untuk mengkaji undang-undang dadah Malaysia dan mengambil pendekatan berasaskan rawatan dan rehabilitasi terhadap penagihan dadah. Tokoh-tokoh terkenal, termasuk pakar penyakit berjangkit Prof Dato’ Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman, Ketua Program Pemulihan Ketagihan Dadah Spiritual (SEDAR) Dr Rusdi bin Abdul Rashid, dan Pengarah Pusat Penyelidikan Dadah Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Prof Dr Vicknasingam Kasinather telah lama menyokong langkah untuk merawat secara perubatan dan merehabilitasi pengguna dadah di Malaysia.

Sementara itu, usaha ke arah reformasi dasar dan undang-undang berkaitan dadah telah mengambil masa yang panjang. Pada tahun 2017, Menteri di Jabatan Perdana Menteri ketika itu, YB Datuk Seri Azalina Othman telah mencadangkan buat pertama kali supaya satu kajian dijalankan untuk menilai semula hukuman-hukuman dadah berdasarkan tahap keseriusan pemilikan dan pengedaran. Pada tahun 2019, sebuah jawatankuasa khas yang terdiri daripada Kementerian Kesihatan (KKM), Kementerian Belia dan Sukan (KBS) serta Agensi Anti Dadah Kebangsaan (AADK) telah ditubuhkan dan dilaporkan telah bersetuju untuk mengusahakan langkah-langkah ke arah meringankan hukuman jenayah terhadap pesalah kecil dadah.

Baru-baru ini, kerajaan Perikatan Nasional dikatakan telah mencadangkan undang-undang baru untuk menggantikan Akta Penagih Dadah (Rawatan dan Pemulihan) menjelang akhir tahun ini. Undang-undang baharu ini dirancang untuk memperuntukkan penempatan pengguna dadah dalam program rehabilitasi dan rawatan tanpa pemenjaraan. Walau bagaimanapun, penggunaan dadah masih ditadbir di bawah bidang kuasa Akta Dadah Berbahaya dan sehingga peruntukan yang relevan di bawah Akta ini dipinda, keberkesanan undang-undang baharu ini akan menjadi tanda tanya.

Tambahan pula dan perkara yang paling utama, isu kesalahan pemilikan dadah dalam kuantiti kecil masih belum selesai. Hukuman yang tidak seimbang dan penjara yang sesak mungkin akan terus berkekalan sehingga hal ini dapat diselesaikan.

Dekriminalisasi Dadah merujuk kepada penghapusan tuduhan dan hukuman jenayah seperti hukuman penjara kerana memiliki dan/atau menggunakan bahan narkotik dalam jumlah yang kecil.

Konsep ini telah mendapat sokongan yang kuat dan juga kritikan. Aktivis seperti Malaysian Drug Policy Reform Alliance menyokongnya dan telah memetik kajian tempatan yang menunjukkan perbandingan kos dan keberkesanan penjara berbanding pemulihan dadah. Pihak lain pula, seperti mantan Ketua Polis Negara Tan Sri Dato’ Musa Hassan dan peguam jenayah, Datuk Rosal Azimin Ahmad berpendapat bahawa langkah ini akan mendorong penggunaan dadah dan membebankan penguatkuasa undang-undang.

Adakah COVID-19 akan mengubah pendekatan kita?

Pandemik ini telah menjadi peringatan kepada kita tentang satu isu yang telah lama berlegar tetapi selalu dilupakan. Reformasi undang-undang dadah amat diperlukan, bukan hanya kerana kesesakan di penjara, tetapi juga atas sebab yang lebih mudah: keberkesanan undang-undang tersebut. Antara lain, dasar-dasar berkaitan dadah yang progresif terbukti telah dapat meringankan beban sistem keadilan jenayah dan mengurangkan penggunaan dadah. Sebagai contoh, di negara Portugal, setelah pelaksanaan dekriminalisasi dadah pada tahun 2001, kes-kes overdos dadah, jangkitan HIV, dan jenayah yang berkaitan dengan dadah telah dilaporkan menurun. Manfaat serupa juga dilihat di Switzerland; hampir tiga dekad setelah dekriminalisasi dadah, negara tersebut mencatatkan penurunan pengguna heroin baharu sebanyak 80%.

Sejumlah sistem perundangan lain di serata dunia juga telah mula bergerak ke arah penggubalan dasar dadah yang lebih progresif. Contohnya, dekriminalisasi ke atas semua jenis dadah telah dilaksanakan di negeri Oregon di Amerika Syarikat pada akhir tahun lalu. Australia telah memperkenalkan draf rang undang-undang pada Disember tahun lalu untuk menghapuskan hukuman ke atas pemilikan dadah untuk penggunaan peribadi. Pihak yang menyokong telah menyambut baik rang undang-undang tersebut dan menyatakan bahawa pengguna dadah akan mendapat akses kepada penjagaan kesihatan yang lebih baik sambil mengurangkan tekanan pada sistem keadilan jenayah di Australia.

Ketika Malaysia memerangi penularan wabak COVID-19, amatlah penting untuk kita merancang secara lebih konkrit untuk meminda undang-undang dadah yang bersifat punitif ke arah satu pendekatan yang yang mengutamakan rehabilitasi. Sistem rehabilitasi tidak hanya akan dapat meringankan jumlah pesalah dadah yang tinggi di penjara, tetapi juga akan melahirkan kaedah yang lebih berkesan untuk menangani isu kebergantungan dadah di negara kita.