The Migrant Workers Right to Redress Coalition (MWR2R) views Malaysia’s relegation to tier 3 watchlist of the annual US human trafficking report as a serious indictment of the government’s failure to protect the human rights of its estimated 4 million migrant workers, and refugees.
The tier 3 watchlist simply means that the government has not taken serious and ongoing measures to curb rampant modern day slavery and trafficking in Malaysia, especially among undocumented migrant workers who are said to number over 2 million.
Instead of being in denial and claiming the report to be baseless or based on biased NGO feedback, the government should come to terms with reality and take serious measures to improve the human rights situation of the migrant population.
One immediate step the government should take to protect human rights and improve its image is to allow the right to redress for all migrant workers. The Employment Act allows all workers who are dismissed, migrants included, to file a complaint and challenge the dismissal through the labour/industrial relations department and the respective courts. However, Immigration policy strictly forbids dismissed workers from working for any other employer.
In effect then, without the right to work, there is no right to redress to speak of for migrant workers in Malaysia.
Not only does this violate basic human rights, but it also adds to the problem of slavery and trafficking. This category of undocumented workers actually enter the country with passports and work permits, but because of bad policies, they lose both papers (since employers hold on to the passports) and become illegal.
The government should enable workers who have filed complaints at the labour/industrial relations department or whose cases are being heard at the Labour/Industrial Court to work so that they can pursue their case.
Contrary to what the government claims, this will not ‘open up the floodgates’ - no worker in his right mind, will without strong grounds fake a dismissal in order to change employer, as winning at the Labour/Industrial Court is not easy, and losing means you will have to leave the country.
The government loses nothing by providing migrant workers the opportunity to seek remedy when they feel they have been wrongfully dealt with by their employers. In fact a proper avenue for redress can remove the freedom of exploitative employers to hire and fire at will, and thereby help contain the rise of undocumented workers.
Migrant workers are invited to work here by the government at the request of employers. The over 2 million undocumented workers are also part of the Malaysian workforce, contributing jointly to the economy of the country. The government needs to be honest and recognise their significant contribution. It must take measures to legalise these workers but not, never, in the 6P way.
RANI RASIAH is coordinator, Migrant Workers Right to Redress Coalition (MWR2R). The coalition comprises the following groups - SahabatWanita, Tenaganita, PSM, Jump, Jerit, MTUC and the Bar Council.