Focus on independent body to regulate social workers as Social Work Profession Bill could be tabled this year

News that the Social Work Profession Bill could be tabled in the Dewan Rakyat this year may come as a huge relief to advocates who have spent years tirelessly championing the cause.

Yet, the biggest challenge could be the setting up of an independent body to regulate social workers, which was included in the draft Bill.

Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri, during the Oral Question Time in the Dewan Rakyat today, said that certain legal and policy issues had to be scrutinised before the next step could be taken.

“Our target is that the Bill is brought to Parliament this year. We hope all issues raised by the agencies involved can be resolved,” she said, responding to Dr Kelvin Yii (PH-Bandar Kuching) who had asked about plans to table the Bill, and set up the regulatory body.

Ministry insiders said they were all for the formation of the council, but admitted there were several “operational factors” that needed to be looked into.

“Who is going to fund the council? This would mean conversations with the Finance Ministry, and looking at budgets,” said an officer who was familiar with the workings of the Bill.

“The definition of a social worker is important. We must be mindful that there are social workers within the government. While many, when they think of social workers, they think of the Welfare Department, let’s not forget, that there are also social workers in other government agencies, including the National Anti-Drugs Agency. The definition and requirements must match, across the board. Otherwise, there may be a situation where we may have ‘unqualified’ social workers within government agencies.”

Another source added that legal aspects needed to be examined as well. The official said the Malaysian Bar, for example, had the power to disqualify law practitioners.

“By right, the ministry should not spearhead this council. It must be independent. What we’re doing right now is finalising the details as to who should be part of the council, what powers the council can have, and how it will truly function.”

The Bill, once gazetted as an Act of Parliament, aims to elevate the status of social workers, to professionals. It is also intended to improve efficiency in the management of social workers, and regulating the profession.

The journey to getting the Bill passed into an Act of Parliament has been a long one.

In October 2017, then deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said that he hoped the proposed Bill would be tabled after being delayed for five years.

Ahmad Zahid had said that the matter would be presented to the Cabinet and then tabled in the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara.

Former deputy Women and Community Development minister Hannah Yeoh had also pushed for the Bill to be tabled, but due to a change in government in 2020 and Covid-19, the matter was put on the backburner.

In June 2020, former Women, Family and Community Development minister Datuk Seri Rina Harun said that the ministry was expected to table the Bill by the end of December 2020.

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