KUALA LUMPUR: Klang MP Charles Santiago today urged Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to reconsider the planned crackdown on undocumented migrant workers after the rehiring programme ends on June 30.
He said indiscriminate enforcement would not do justice to migrant workers who had been failed by their “unscrupulous and abusive employers”.
In a statement, he added that many reports revealed that migrant workers became undocumented 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 are raped, tortured and killed.”
Citing a 2013 World Bank study, Santiago gave several reasons why Indonesian migrant workers became undocumented, including irregular channels being faster and less expensive; the rigid system that tied migrant workers to specific employers; and indecent working conditions, abusive practices or non-payment of salaries.
Some workers also lost their travel documents after leaving because employers withheld their passports, while others were trafficking victims or cheated into working in Malaysia, he said.
He quoted a 2017 Amnesty International report which said a group of Nepali workers who had been deceived into performing dangerous work at a steel factory fled the company after witnessing several industrial accidents at the workplace.
“They were trapped and could not return to Nepal because they could not settle debts attributed to the high recruitment fee, about US$1,200 per person.”
Santiago said there were 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.
The immigration raids carried out in 2017, he said, resulted in the arrest and detention of more than 3,000 undocumented migrants.
“This shows the rehiring programme is a failure. The government also failed 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 have complained that lucrative concessions were awarded to Umno-linked companies to manage migrant workers, for example MyEG and Bestinet.”
He said it was time for the government to overhaul the migrant labour management system to protect migrant workers’ rights; punish errant employers and provide remedy for undocumented migrant workers; eliminate cronyism in migrant labour management system; and end the commodification of migrant workers.
He suggested that the government stick to the 11th Malaysia Plan which he said provided some good recommendations.
“First, to cap (a) proportion of migrant workers at 15% of total workforce by 2020. Second, to streamline recruitment of migrant workers through a one-stop centre managed by the human resources ministry, which will eliminate all intermediaries and outsourcing companies. Third, introduce a liability concept that employers are fully accountable for the welfare of migrant workers.”
Santiago also reminded the government of its obligation under the 2007 Asean Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, which vows to “intensify efforts to protect fundamental human rights, promote the welfare and uphold the human dignity of migrant workers”.
He said there was also a need to enact a legally binding treaty to protect the human rights of migrant workers in the region.