Migrant workers come here to work because of the promise of a better life, to escape poverty, disadvantage, persecution, disasters and strife in their home countries. According to the United Nations, a record 190 million people worldwide are working and living away from their home countries.
About three million migrants are working in Malaysia both legal and undocumented and they continuously put at the mercy of unscrupulous labour agents, many of them are connected with Umno and may even be Umno leaders.
Every day migrant workers are abandoned by these shady recruiters after paying RM8,000 to RM12,000 which they had begged and borrowed as commission to agents to get a job in Malaysia. When they arrive, they are abandoned by these well-connected agents. Immigration authorities then sent them packing to detention camps and later they are deported only to face a mountain of debts back home.
After an outcry, the government suddenly froze the recruitment of Bangladeshi workers. This is unfair because these workers had already borrowed and paid money to agents to get jobs. They should not be deported without an investigation and compensation. The agents and their political masters have made millions from the workers. They should be investigated, charged in the court for cheating and ordered to pay back the money in addition to compensation.
Furthermore, merely deporting them back does not solve the very severe and unworkable recruitment policies practiced by the government.
The Home Ministry is squarely responsible for this critical situation, which is a human tragedy of unparallel proportion in the history of this country. The ministry's policy of outsourcing the recruitment of migrant workers to companies is at the core of the problem. The ministry has authorised 230 companies to bring in 300,000 workers from Bangladesh after the government revoked the ban imposed in 1996.
Outsourcing companies makes millions for agents but places migrant workers at the mercy of agents and employers. This is part of the reward system for middle-level Umno politicians to make fast money from the poor foreign workers. Making money illegally out of foreign workers has become a lucrative private enterprise.
The problem is outsourcing companies "sell" the workers to agents who then keep them in captive and make use of them for temporary work without paying their wages. This amounts to trafficking, which is a serious offence under the new trafficking law passed in Parliament this year.
The Home Ministry approves outsourcing companies within 24 hours and without proper verification. There is no transparency in the process and corruption is the norm. Under these circumstances, we cannot blame the foreign workers.
We need their labour, they need the money. Why don't we have a proper system without cheating or exploiting them so that they can do decent work and sent money home and eventually leave for their home countries? What gain do we get by terrorising them, cheating them by promising jobs and collecting thousands of ringgits from them and eventually deporting them.
Home Minister Radzi Sheikh Ahmad must take the blame for this severe mess that has severely embarrassed the country among the international community. There is nobody to monitor or hold the outsourcing companies accountable for their action. They act with impunity because they are protected by their political masters.
How many hundreds of times have foreign migrant workers lodged protests that they have been cheated and robbed of their wages? Has any agent or outsourcing companies been charged? Not a single one!
Recruitment and employment of migrant workers is not a business. It is unjust and inhuman and violates all international laws and norms. The Immigration Department violated both the Immigration Act and basic human rights by sending thousands of Bangladeshi workers with legal documents and valid calling visa to detention camps. These workers came to the country legally and with valid calling visas issued by the Malaysian High Commission in Dhaka but they are sent off to detention camps for deportation!
Ultimately, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak should also be blamed for this human tragedy and sordid state of affair. As head of the Cabinet committee on Foreign Workers, he is directly responsible for the corruption, cheating and mismanagement and fraud in the recruitment and employment of foreign labour. I shall raise this issue in the next sitting of Parliament which will begin on Monday.
He must disband outsourcing as an employment strategy before the world condemns us.
The writer is MP for Ipoh Barat and DAP national vice-chairman.