Malaysiakini News

End our commodification of migrant workers

Charles Santiago  |  Published:  |  Modified:

MP SPEAKS | I strongly urge Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to reconsider the planned crackdown against undocumented migrant workers after the rehiring programme ends on June 30.

This is because indiscriminate enforcement does not do justice for migrant workers who were failed by their unscrupulous and abusive employers.

Many reports revealed that migrant workers were forced into undocumented status due to their employers’ refusal to renew their work permits.

Some of them ran away from abusive employers to protect their own lives. It is not uncommon to hear about cases where migrant workers were raped, tortured and killed.

A World Bank (2013) study stated five reasons why Indonesian migrant workers become undocumented:

  • Irregular channels are faster and less expensive;
  • Rigid systems that tie migrant workers to specific employers;
  • Indecent working conditions, abusive practice or non-payment of salary;
  • Migrant workers losing their travel documents after leaving because employers withheld their passports;
  • Migrant workers are victims of trafficking in persons or cheated into working in Malaysia.

An Amnesty International report in 2017 documented a group of Nepali workers being deceived into performing dangerous work at a steel factory. They fled the company after witnessing industrial accidents at the workplace.

They were trapped and could not return to Nepal because they could not settle debts attributed to high recruitment fees, about US$1,200 per person.

There are approximately 1.9 million registered migrant workers and six million undocumented migrant workers in Malaysia.

In 2017, the rehiring and amnesty programme of the government only registered 161,000 undocumented migrant workers, 2.7% of the total number. Immigration raids carried out in 2017 arrested and detained only 3,000 undocumented migrants

This shows the rehiring programme is a failure with the government failing to take appropriate action against errant employers.

Moreover, the migrant labour system is plagued by cronyism - local and foreign recruitment companies have turned migrant workers into profitable commodities.

Pakatan Harapan and industrial players had in the past complained about lucrative concessions had been awarded to Umno-linked companies to manage migrant workers.

Treaty needed

Therefore, it is high time for the government to overhaul the migrant labour management system. Three objectives must be met,

  • To protect migrant workers’ human rights;
  • To punish errant employers and provide effective remedies for undocumented migrant workers;
  • To eliminate cronyism in migrant labour management system and to end commodification of migrant workers.

The government should stick to the 11th Malaysia Plan that provides few good recommendations.

First, to cap the proportion of migrant workers at 15% of the total workforce by 2020. Second, to streamline recruitment of migrant workers through a One-Stop Centre managed by the Ministry of Human Resource, which will eliminate all intermediaries and outsourcing companies.

Third, introduce a liability concept so that employers are fully accountable for the welfare of migrant workers.

Lastly, I would like to remind the government of our obligation under the 2007 Asean Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers which is to "intensify efforts to protect the fundamental human rights, promote the welfare and uphold human dignity of migrant workers".

There is also a need to enact a legally binding treaty to protect the human rights of migrant workers in the region.

CHARLES SANTIAGO is member of Parliament for Klang.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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