The Malaysian Trades Union Congress sees lack of emphasis by employers about employees’ mental wellbeing
The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) is a federation of trade unions and registered under the Societies Act, 1955. It is the oldest national centre representing the Malaysian workers. The Unions affiliated to MTUC represent all major industries and sectors with approximately 500,000 members.
With how the organisation represents quite a large part of the total workforce in Malaysia, it would be safe to say that issues with mental health at the workplace has been on the radar for some time.
Empowering the employees
The Health spoke to A. Balasubramaniam, Deputy Secretary General and Mohd Jafar Abd Majid, Deputy President of MTUC about their role in the welfare and wellbeing of the Malaysian workforce.
“The MTUC is an organizational body under the Ministry of Human Resources. We organise regular meetups with stakeholders and discuss pressing matters concerning employees in Malaysia. We are the voice representing the employees, and have been active in supporting the creation and amendments of laws and acts regarding employees and employment for the country,” opens Balasubramaniam.
One of the more pressing matter to circle our local workforce recently has been their state of mental health. For this, the MTUC also takes an active role to discuss and plan out ways to improve.
“Mental health and wellbeing has been a topic of discussion among us for quite some time. It is unfortunate that Malaysian employees are not getting enough support when it comes to their mental health at the workplace,” says Jafar.
Barriers among the workforce
The MTUC works closely with various sectors in the country, finding information on numerous employees. They have found that employees, especially the ones working in manufacturing and production, are majorly stressed out from work.
“Mental health issues that comes from the workplace are results of non-conducive working environment, pressure from the management to perform and meet KPIs, as well as a toxic workplace culture,” Jafar continues.
“These factors cause immense stress for the workers, and will affect their mental wellbeing if ignored,” adds Balasubramaniam.
Extreme cases of stress at the workplace
Jafar tells a case of how an employee was put under pressure for too long, and was never provided a chance to resuscitate from immense stress.
“A case was reported a couple of years ago, where a man went into his working place with a machete, looking for his superior. He was drastically overworked, and didn’t get help from his employers or otherwise.”
Focus to be on employers
When it concerns the mental health of an employee, especially at the workplace, there are no two ways of saying it: Employers must take on the responsibility.
“We don’t want employers to simply wash their hands clean with mental health issues at the workplace. Stress and anxiety at the workplace are a product of the working environment, culture, and workload. Factors that can be controlled to a certain level by the employers,” says Balasubramaniam.
He also says that the because of the controllable factors, employers should lessen the stress, or provide facilities or services to destress their employees when needed.
The gap in the system
Besides focusing and empowering the employers to take a step up, there is also the matter of governance.“As of now, the Malaysian government does not make it mandatory to help employees relieve their stress and preserve their mental wellbeing. It should be a highly recommended initiative if not a mandatory one,” says Jafar.
He also adds that it should be a priority for the government to make sure that employers to not ignore mental health issues among employees.
“Sadly, mental health issues are not seen as a viable ‘condition’ for workers to take a day off, for instance. Things like stress and anxiety are widely not accepted by employers.
It takes a toll on their mental health, their performance, and ultimately their overall welfare.”
Another worrying factor when it comes to mental health at the workplace is the lack of recording of cases. According to Jafar, cases of outbursts from employees caused by stress are not recorded by any type of ministry or organisation. It may only exist in that particular company’s records.
“The lack of data accumulated means it becomes more difficult to present a solid case about the dangers of high-level stress at the workplace,” Balasubramaniam exclaims.
Jafar suggests that the government could make it compulsory for companies to report cases concerning employees’ mental health so that some kind of data can be collected.
“However, how many companies do you think is going to come forward with having such cases among their workforce? It could tarnish their reputation,” Balasubramaniam retorts.
A needed break?
As we are advocating the Hero’s Leave, The Health brought up the proposed five-day undocumented leave to Balasubramaniam and Jafar.
Jafar responds: “It is a good idea, but difficult to implement. You see, from our experience, there is a lot of abuse that can come from an undocumented leave. Employers may not be so keen on implementing an approach such as the Hero’s Leave.”
Having said that, Jafar says that mental health issues should be taken more seriously. Therefore it should be accepted by employers as a viable condition to grant a medical leave for.
Balasubramaniam adds: “At the end of the day, we know that for an employee to perform well at any given job, he or she must be in a good state of mind.
“High levels of stress caused by immense pressure or a toxic workplace can affect that. Employers should take mental health issues very seriously as it affects the welfare of the employees as well as the company’s. It’s a lose-lose situation that can be prevented through better management of the workplace.” — The Health
We don’t want employers to simply wash their hands clean with mental health issues at the workplace. Stress and anxiety at the workplace are a product of the working environment, culture, and workload. Factors that can be controlled to a certain level by the employers.”–
Balasubramaniam, Deputy Secretary General