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Immigration Dept cheated us, foreign workers tell Suhakam

A group of 36 Indian migrant workers who claim to have 'been deceived' by the Immigration Department today appealed to the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) to assist them in getting valid work permits.

Fourteen of the workers representing the group handed over a memorandum to commissioner Harun Hashim at the Suhakam office this morning.

They were accompanied by their lawyers Charles Hector and Roland Engan as well as the director of Central Generative Sdn Bhd, Mohd Ali Abdul Wahid.

Their memorandum stated that their rights as workers had been violated by 'the delay and dishonesty of the Immigration Department' which they alleged issued them with expired work permits.

"We appeal to Suhakam to help us get our permits, noting that we have already paid the necessary levy and that what we are asking for is something that has already been ordered by the Kuala Lumpur High Court," the workers' spokesman Rajakannu Boopathy said.

He added that the delay by the Immigration department had deprived the group of their right to work legally in the country and had also resulted in several of the workers being arrested by police and detained at illegal immigrant detention camps.

Temporary work permit

Harun informed the workers that he will hand over the memorandum to the other Suhakam commissioners before deciding on a course of action.

"I can't decide on this issue on my own. This (memorandum) will go before the commission and we will conduct an initial enquiry to establish whether there should be a public enquiry," Harun said.

A copy of the memorandum was also handed over to the Bar Council this afternoon.

The workers' ordeal began 20 months ago when they initiated a lawsuit against their former employer, Gopis Construction Sdn Bhd, whom they alleged failed to pay them their wages.

They then applied to the Immigration Department for permission to work on their own or alternatively be transferred to another employer.

On Dec 6 last year, the High Court ordered the Immigration Department to issue temporary work permits to the workers to enable them to work legally for a construction company, Central Generative Sdn Bhd.

Contempt proceedings

The workers claim that the Director-General of Immigration issued permits on April 19, but 13 of the permits had lapsed in January and February this year while the rest lapsed on July 8.

The workers are now seeking leave to commence contempt proceedings against the former Director-General of Immigration Aseh Che Mat and five other Immigration Department officers for failing to comply with the High Court order.

Their application was filed at the High Court last week and will be heard on July 25.

According to Charles Hector, existing laws in the country only allow migrant workers to complain against their employers for violation of their rights but do no provide a mechanism for the worker to continue to work and earn legally in Malaysia.

"It is thus unfeasible for them to commence legal action," he said adding there was also no clear law and penalties against employers who violated migrant workers' rights.

"For example, an employer must provide the Immigration Department with a contract of employment as a condition for the issuance of the work permit (the expatriate identification pass), but when the employer fails to pay wages according to that contract, the department does not penalise the employer.

"There is no enforcement against employers. In fact, these workers' former employer, despite all his violations, is not blacklisted and continues to be given permits to recruit migrant workers," Hector said.

Required skills

Central Generative director Mohd Ali told malaysiakini that his company was incurring high costs due to the Immigration department's delay in issuing the worker's permits.

He said that the workers' levy fees amounting to more that RM40,000 was being borne by the company as the workers had entered a two-year contract with the company on Dec 6 last year, after the High Court order.

"We can't just leave these workers alone now after having invested so much in them. Furthermore, we have a lot of job opportunities and we need these workers who have the skills required.

"But we are suffering together with them because they can't work without the permits," Mohd Ali said.

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