KUALA LUMPUR: Those who constantly work more than eight hours a day are at risk of developing mental health issues.
The trend of employers demanding that workers put in extra hours, or employees doing so to increase their income, has raised concern among health experts, who are increasingly seeing employees clocking 12 hours a day, or working 60 hours a week.
The Employment Act 1955 underlines that Malaysians, unless under specific circumstances, can only be asked to put in 10 extra hours a week.
Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) president Abdul Halim Mansor said he would ask the government to amend the employment law to protect the welfare of employees.
He said most organisations had been breaking the law by “overworking” their employees.
The worrying trend had resulted in chronic stress and mental exhaustion among workers.
“The Human Resources Ministry must remind employers that the act must be honoured and cannot be simply tweaked by irresponsible people, who are concerned with output only.
“Prolonged overtime is unhealthy and the government must revisit provisions to make employers responsible when imposing extra hours.
“As a developing country that is aiming to become a developed nation, Malaysia needs a comprehensive law to make sure workers have quality rest time,” he said, adding that the congress had also been alerted to bosses who manipulate work rosters to suit their interest.
“For many workers, their days-off are on weekdays and rarely on weekends. This has been cited as a reason for their depression as they have no social life. This kind of issues must be addressed,” Halim said, adding that the problem was prevalent in the manufacturing and logistics sector.
To compound the problem, he said employees were also required to be on “stand-by” on their days-off.
“Even at home, they cannot relax because they are forced to keep their mind on work.
“We don’t want the country’s human capital to experience what we are seeing in Japan and South Korea, where the workers commit suicide over health or work-related issues.”
Deputy Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Abdul Muttalib agreed with MTUC and said the ministry was in the midst of improving the law.
“It’s our ministry’s responsibility to review the law, and we are getting input from all stakeholders. It is important for all to sit together and discuss the changes. We will ensure that the proposed changes are suitable for current times,” he said.
Last month, Japanese broadcaster NHK had taken responsibility and apologised to the parents of a journalist who worked to death. The 31-year-old woman was found dead in her bed in July 2013, reportedly clutching her mobile phone.
She was covering the country’s parliamentary elections and had died of heart failure after logging 159 hours of overtime, taking only two days-off in the month.
Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Dr Ravindran Naidu said cases of depression, anxiety and mental disorders were on the rise in Malaysia, and work stress was among the leading causes.
“The International Labour Organisation (ILO) report tell us that Malaysians work an average of 40 hours a week. However, more people are working more than 60 hours a week.
“This trend is rising partly because of economic issues, where low-income earners have to meet their families’ needs.
“Japan recognises karoshi, or work stress-related illnesses that can lead to death, and it usually affects those working more than 60 hours a week,” said Dr Ravi.
He added that a global survey in 2015 had revealed that 70 per cent of Malaysian workers were suffering from stress. He said the unhappy employees were forced to stay on because their job was the only income they had.
“Being unhappy at the workplace brings stress, but many are willing to overlook this because of financial constraints,” he said.