Malaysia is one of Asia's biggest employers of foreign labour. But recently, cases of deaths, abuse and forced labour have come to light. What is going on? Who is protecting these migrant workers?
PETALING JAYA: Most cases involving the abuse of migrant workers occur deep in jungles and in plantations located far from towns, the human rights organisation Tenaganita has alleged.
According to Tenaganita executive director Glorene Das, the abused workers, including those with families, are kept in “absolute isolation” from the outside world.
“Many don’t even know where they are and are too afraid to leave or run away because they have been threatened by the employers and agents, who use local gangsters to control them,” she told FMT.
She said Tenaganita was also aware of families brought into Malaysia on tourist visas and then sent to work deep in the jungles. She said they would remain in employment after the expiry of their visas.
“The agents and employers practise this form of exploitation and violation because there is no clear comprehensive policy for recruitment, placement and employment of migrant workers,” she added.
She was responding to a recent news report about human trafficking and the abuse of eighteen people at an oil palm plantation in Pengkalan Hulu.
According to The Star daily, the victims, including five children, were lured to the isolated plantation, accessible only by four-wheel drive along dirt roads. After their rescue, they told police they were made to work long hours, with the children forced to carry the harvested fruits.
One of the alleged victims, identified only as Jag, is a Malaysian from Bahau, Negri Sembilan.
“This form of exploitation is nothing new to us, and if it can happen to locals, then you can be sure it happens to migrant workers,” Das said.
“This is forced labour and has clear elements of human trafficking. In our outreach activities with refugee and migrant communities, we have found many in such situations.”
She claimed that some of the plantations where such abuse would occur were sub-contracted by well-known plantation companies.
“These plantation companies are big corporations, and many of them are aware of what’s going on, especially the middle management.”
She said it was possible that top managers were unaware of such activities.
She said this form of exploitation occurred because of the lack of a proper monitoring mechanism.
“Also, there is a lack of labour inspectors who go into deep jungles where plantations are.”
Klang MP Charles Santiago agreed with Das, saying that poor enforcement coupled with a lack of labour inspection officers contributed to the “sad state of affairs”.
“It’s not the inspectors’ fault, but the top guys who are not willing to spend extra for the extra manpower needed,” he told FMT.
According to past reports, exploited workers were paid but the management would deduct from their salaries excessive amounts of money for the food items supplied to them.
Neither the Human Resource Ministry nor the Labour Department could be reached for comments. However, former labour department director-general Sheikh Yahya Mohamed told FMT the lack of labour inspectors could be attributed to a shortage of funds.
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