The Temporary Measures for Reducing the Impact of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Bill 2020 ("Bill") was passed by the Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives) on 25 August 2020 and the Dewan Negara (Senate) on 22 September 2020. The Bill will now be presented to the Yang-di Pertuan Agong for His Majesty's assent. After receipt of His Majesty's assent, the Bill will be gazetted and will come into operation on the date of its publication in the Gazette and will remain in operation for two years thereafter.
The Bill introduces various temporary measures with the aim of reducing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Malaysia by modifying relevant provisions in various Acts of Parliament, which include, amongst others, the Industrial Relations Act 1967 and the Private Employment Agencies Act 1981. As a result of this, the Bill will certainly have an effect on employment matters. In this regard, a summary of the salient clauses of the Bill is set out below.

1. Clause 40 of the Bill seeks to exclude the period from 18 March 2020 to 9 June 2020 ("exclusion period") from the calculation of the following periods provided for under the Industrial Relations Act 1967 ("IRA 1967");

a. The twenty-one day period stipulated under Section 9(3) of the IRA 1967 for an employer or a trade union of employers upon whom a claim for recognition has been served, to either accord recognition or notify the trade union of workmen concerned in writing the grounds for not according recognition.

b. The fourteen-day period under Section 9(4) of the IRA 1967 provided to a trade union of workmen to make a report in writing to the Director General for Industrial Relations ("Director General") in relation to a recognition claim where the employer gives notice that it will not accord recognition or does not respond within the time prescribed.

c. The sixty-day period from the date of dismissal for a workman to file a representation of dismissal without just cause or excuse to the Director General under Section 20(1A) of the IRA 1967.

Therefore, where an event that triggers the commencement of any one of the time periods referred to above occurs during the exclusion period, the time period allowed for the aggrieved party to take action shall commence from 9 June 2020. Where the event occurred before commencement of the exclusion period, the exclusion period will not factor into the computation of the time limited under any of the relevant provisions of law referred to above.  

2. Part II of the Bill implements measures to prevent parties from enforcing their rights under a contract from the period spanning from 18 March 2020 to 31 December 2020 due to the inability of either party to perform a contract due to measures made under the Prevention of Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988. However, this only applies to a specific list of contracts stipulated under the Schedule to Part II, examples of which include construction work contracts and contracts relating to the lease or tenancy of non-residential immoveable property. It is pertinent to note that employment contracts are not listed under the Schedule. As such, employers and employees are not prevented from enforcing their rights under employment contracts due to the inability by either party to perform their obligations under the employment contracts. Thus, employers are not relieved from their obligation to pay salaries and employees are not relieved from their obligation to work.

3. Clause 12 of the Bill stipulates that any limitation period specified in section 6 of the Limitation Act 1953 which expires during the period spanning form 18 March 2020 to 31 August 2020 shall be extended to 31 December 2020. Section 6 of the Limitation Act 1953 stipulates the limitation period of 6 years for actions founded in contract or in tort, amongst others. Employers and employees should thus note that any claim they may have under an employment contract or for negligence, that of which the limitation period expired between 18 March 2020 to 31 August 2020, will have an extension of time until 31 December 2020 to file their claims.

4. Clause 42 of the Bill seeks to exclude the period from 18 March 2020 to 9 June 2020 from the calculation of the period for an application to renew a license under Section 11(1) of the Private Employment Agencies Act 1981. Under Section 11(1), a private employment agency must submit a renewal of license application at least sixty days before the expiry date of their present license. Private employment agencies whose licenses expired during the period spanning from 18 March 2020 to 9 June 2020 will thus have an extended time to file their license renewals.

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