Rights groups issue fact sheet on migrant workers

By Syed Jaymal Zahiid
There are around six million migrant workers in Malaysia. An estimated 800,000 to a million of them are Bangladeshi workers.― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, March 22 — Two migrant rights groups launched today a fact sheet on the dire state of some one million Bangladeshi labourers who mostly work under deplorable conditions here.

CARAM ASIA and Tenaganita said they aimed to disseminate information on the situation and conditions of these migrant workers to push for legislations that would regulate recruitment and working conditions. The lack of regulation makes them vulnerable to exploitation with no legal recourse, the groups warned.

“Labour recruiters from source countries and Malaysia take undue advantage of people desperately seeking employment opportunities by imposing exorbitant recruitment fees, often far exceeding the quantum set by the Government,” Tenaganita’s programme director, Glorene A Das, told a press conference here.

“This leads to heavy salary deductions thus leaving them with meagre amount to meet their living costs,” she added.

Das said these workers have frequently lodged complaints of poor wages and working conditions, often in violation of the National Minimum Wage Act and the Employment Act.

She claimed the mental pressure stemming from the hardship has also affected their productivity.

“The non-existence of comprehensive policies for the recruitment and employment of migrants have become an opportunity for human traffickers to make money and exploit undocumented (and thus unprotected) workers,” she explained.

There are around six million migrant workers in Malaysia. An estimated 800,000 to a million of them are Bangladeshi workers.

Migrant workers are often easy target for exploitation, rights groups have pointed out in the past.

Many of them undergo various forms of violations that include physical and mental abuse.

Complaints of long hours of work without payment for overtime, no paid day off, debt bondage and high wage deductions are almost common. They are also often denied access to healthcare and treatment or obtain compensation.

These allegations have also come from workers who came here with proper documentations. There have been numerous complaints that employers have withheld their passports, leading to arrest, detention and deportation.

Putrajaya enacted the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act in 2007 but critics and rights groups said the authorities usually fail to enforce the law effectively, paving way for corruption and emboldening recruitment agencies to operate against the law.

Malaysia remains in the Tier 2 for the third year in a row in the United States annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report last year. It was only promoted from the bottom tier in 2015 after a government clampdown on traffickers and delinquent recruiters.

Despite that, Tenaganita alleged labour outsourcing agencies remained impervious to scrutiny. To this day, they continue to import workers without a permit.

The group had said, as a policy suggestion, that recruitment be determined by actual manpower needs, with the Ministry of Human Resources given the sole responsibility for the management and monitoring of all matters related to migrant workers.

It also calling for a Zero Recruitment Fee Policy, where recruitment fees covering visa, levy, health insurance and fare be made the responsibility of the employers.

The fact sheet, to be published in a two-page pamphlet, will contain a compacted version of all this information. The groups are expected to distribute the pamphlets to the public and to the relevant government agencies soon.