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End discrimination against foreigners and migrants in COVID-19 responses
Published:  Jun 30, 2020 12:10 PM
Updated: Jul 15, 2020 8:43 AM

Respect for Human Rights includes ending racism and xenophobia

We, the 39 undersigned groups and organizations urge Malaysia to end discrimination and ethnophobia against migrant workers and foreigners including in responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the beginning of May, it was reported that all migrant/foreign workers will be required to be screened for Covid-19, before they be allowed to return to work in all sectors.

Recently, there was a report that foreigners will not be allowed to use mosque/suraus.(Malay Mail, 11/6/2020)

These are practices against Human Rights, and also that the Federal Constitution. Article 8 of the Federal Constitution, which states, ‘(1) All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.’ is clear that this guarantee of equality applies to all persons, citizens or otherwise in Malaysia.

Employment Act 1955 is also against discrimination amongst workers based on nationality, whereby section 60L(1) also states ‘(1) The Director General may inquire into any complaint from a local employee that he is being discriminated against in relation to a foreign employee, or from a foreign employee that he is being discriminated against in relation to a local employee, by his employer in respect of the terms and conditions of his employment…’. This provision clearly captures our principle against discrimination based on nationalities of workers, and as such the Malaysian government’s current requirement that ONLY migrant workers, and not local workers have to be screened and tested before being allowed to return to work is discriminatory.

There is no rational or reasonableness for such requirements that discriminate a certain class of workers, as Covid-19 does not discriminate.

It is also goes against the often mentioned Malaysian policy for testing and screening in response to the Covid-19, which has been reiterated many times by the Director General of Health in his daily televised reports.

On 10th June, Malaysia reportedly had a daily testing capacity of 34,951 samples (NST, 10/6/2020), and there are over 2 million just documented migrant workers in Malaysia, and for just all the 2 million plus to be tested, it will take about two months plus. The reality is that so many others, not just foreigners, that have to be screened everyday.

The Malaysian approach, as far as screening and testing was concerned was before a rationale ‘targeted approach’. Persons who could have come in contact with the infected, and those showing positive symptoms and other high risk groups like returnees from infected countries were the focus.

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah also did say that ‘…if you test everyone and then you isolate them, that’s fine…’, but the fact of the matter, is that migrants and everyone tested, is thereafter never isolated from the rest of the un-tested community and there is always a risk of contact with persons who may not be Covid-19 free, which in the case of workers, will also include the other untested local workers who work with them,‘…So that’s the next question, how often do you want to test them?...’(Malay Mail, 14/5/2020)

Malaysia’s xenophobic response to foreigners in Malaysia, also may negatively impact Malaysia’s moral standing to condemn similar discriminatory practices against Malaysians now in foreign countries – hence the ability to keep Malaysians overseas safe from Covid-19 is affected.

Malaysia needs to act in accordance to values, principles and human rights, especially in its response to Covid-19 and its consequences.

Whilst today, the Federal Constitution guarantees equality, Article 8(2), that imposes only on government and public authorities specified anti-discrimination obligations seem to not impose the same obligations on the private sector and other employers. In short, others including private sector employers, may still discriminate workers and/or people simply ‘…on the ground only of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender…’.

Calls for laws to impose these anti-discrimination obligations on all, including private sector employers have gone unheeded for far too long.

Therefore, we call on

  • Malaysia to end all xenophobic and/or discriminatory policies and practices against migrant workers and foreigners in its responses to Covid-19 pandemic;
  • Malaysia to amend laws and/or the Federal Constitution to extend the obligation to specifically not discriminate ‘…on the ground only of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender…’ to all, including private sector employers;
  • Malaysia to provide needed basic assistance to cope with the loss of income or employment to all persons affected by the Covid-19, including migrant workers, foreigners and the self-employed.

Charles Hector
Adrian Pereira

For and on behalf the 39 listed below

WH4C (Workers Hub For Change)
North South Initiative (NSI)
Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC)
People's Service Organization (PSO), Malaysia
Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture)
NAMM (Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia)
National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia (NUFAM)
Parti Sosialis Malaysia(PSM)
Penang Stop Human Trafficking Campaign
Gagasan Insan Progresif
Timber Industry Employees Union of Sarawak
Sabah Timber Industry Employees Union(STIEU)
Labour Behind the Label
International Black Women for Wages for Housework
International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF)
Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) Asia Pacific Region
Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) South East Asian Coalition
Odhikar, Bangladesh
Migrant Care, Indonesia
Persatuan Pekerja Rumah Tangga Indonesia (PERTIMIG) di Malaysia
All Arakan Students' and Youths'; Congress (AASYC), Burma/Myanmar
Rights Defenders and Promoters-HRDP in Myanmar
Radanar Ayar Association from Myanmar
Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha(MASUM), India
Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity(PACTI), India
AMMPO-SENTRO- Association of Filipino Nationalist Workers in Malaysia
Workers Assistance Center, Inc, Philippines
China Labour Bulletin
Women of Color - Global Women’s Strike, United Kingdom
Payday Men’s Network UK
Collectif Ehique sur l’étiquette (France)
Campagna Abiti Puliti – Italy
Women Against Rape
Payday Men’s Network US
Datuk Dr Ronald McCoy

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