Migrant workers: A forgotten economic muscle

MALAYSIANS conveniently forget that migrant workers make massive contributions to the nation’s development, and often for meagre compensation.

“If Bank Negara Malaysia conducts a thorough study on the contribution of migrant workers to our economy, the numbers will be off the charts.

“They add so much value to our economy, labour and culture but we’re too xenophobic to see it. We always link them to crime.

Adrian Pereira

“But if you check the statistics, the percentage of migrant workers committing crime is very low,” North South Initiative (NSI) co-founder cum executive director Adrian Pereira told FocusM

NSI is a non-governmental organisation that deals with human rights issues in Malaysia.

On Nov 26, the Department of Labour Peninsular Malaysia (JTKSM) was reported to have found Top Glove Corp Bhd manufacturing company in Ipoh to be in violation of the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990 (Act 446) during an operation.

“Among the offences were the company’s failure to obtain an ‘accommodation acknowledgment letter’ from our department, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions,” JTKSM standards director Mohd Asri Abdul Wahab was reported saying.

Yesterday, Senior Minister (Security) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced that the Government would extend the enhanced movement control order (EMCO) imposed on Top Glove’s workers’ hostel in Meru, Klang until Dec 14 after a COVID-19 outbreak was detected there.

Touching on the Top Glove issue, Pereira said the glove maker has been hogging the limelight for wrong reasons for some time now but the Government seems to turn a blind eye to it.

“Both the Perikatan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan Governments are to be blamed for this.

“Remember that several foreign investigators alleged in 2018 that Top Glove was using forced labour but then Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran denied the claims.

“But the investigators have found evidence of such practices being put in place,” he said.

To resolve the plight of migrant workers, Pereira said it requires political will and an effective tripartite working agreement involving workers, employers and the Government.

“But I don’t see it coming anytime soon because if it happens, it will become clear to all and sundry on how a lot of companies employ undocumented migrant workers,” he said.

Gov’t dragging its feet

Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) said that corporate companies would not abide by laws to protect migrant workers unless the Government is consistent on enforcement.

“This all boils down to how the Government interprets the business-friendly approach policy. For years, it looks like it came at the price of our migrant workers’ welfare,” said its central committee member R Rani.

She also said that it was unsurprising that Top Glove’s migrant workers were living in horrid conditions as the situation has been as such for a long time.

“When the Housing and Amenities Act was amended, the companies were given a long grace period and support to ensure migrant workers’ housing situation was improved but it did not happen.

Rani Rasiah

“We must remember that Top Glove was also slapped with a temporary suspension by the US a few months back for alleged use of forced labour,” she said.

Training her guns against the Government, Rani said that back in 2017, several NGOs got together and made several proposals which would create a comprehensive policy to deal with migrant workers’ welfare.

“We have about six million migrant workers that needs our attention, documented and undocumented. However, no one wants to create a holistic policy.

“Right now, all we have is ad-hoc policies. We need proper enforcement from the authorities but it looks like an uphill challenge,” said the PSM leader, who is in charge of the party’s worker’s welfare bureau. – Dec 1, 2020.

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