LETTER | The debate involving foreign workers is one that has been contentious for many reasons, and has remained unresolved for many decades now.
If anything, the issue has only been exacerbated over the years through a mixture of exploitation by employers on the one hand, and apathy and corruption by the previous BN government on the other.
While a lot of blame can be placed on the handling of the matter over the years on the BN government, that time has since passed and the Pakatan Harapan government has to necessarily put in place a mechanism to deal with the issue that has serious social, economic and human rights concerns.
The proposal by the secretary-general of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC), J Solomon, that the government looks towards undocumented foreign workers already in the country to plug any gap in the supply of labour would serve as the most practical and humane approach.
This, though, is just one measure that needs to be undertaken. Apart from that, the matter of how wages have been depressed through years of abuse of foreign workers in the country has to be addressed as well.
One way of doing so is to raise the minimum wage level of those companies that engage foreign workers to a higher level. That way, it will not allow such companies to profit from hiring workers at a cost lower than what they would have incurred, had they hired local workers.
This move will also have the added benefit of not depressing wage levels at a more macro level in the country.
Foreign workers are indentured labourers to all intents and purposes, even where the real definition of an indentured labourer could be debated ad nauseam. This should be recognised and there must be an avenue where such workers can take their grievances to, without fear of reprisal or economic punishment.
Living conditions must be decent and it needs to be inspected by an independent body on a regular basis. International labour conventions and agreements on the treatment of foreign workers should be examined and applied, as appropriate.
It is interesting to note that the system seems to punish foreign workers, where they are undocumented, and yet most of these workers were gainfully employed illegally within the country somewhere.
What has happened to the employers that hired these undocumented workers? Have they all been charged and the full force of the law applied to them, or has prosecution been non-existent or selective?
This is a form of corruption within the system, and unless we address this, the problem would likely continue. The cause needs to be dealt with and not the symptom, with the cause here being businesses exploiting the disadvantaged situation of undocumented migrants.
We cannot depend on businesses to regulate themselves. Businesses would seek the maximisation of profits for themselves and their shareholders. The government will have to both regulate the system and ensure proper enforcement.
There has been a lot of talk about the foreign worker situation in Malaysia for some time now, and not only has it gone unaddressed, it has actually gone from bad to worse. The Harapan government must find the resolve and political will to deal with the situation, and engage with the MTUC and businesses as partners to achieve that end.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.