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: The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) and Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) differ on the issue of the government allowing refugees to work and of companies intending to hire refugees.
Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) president Abdul Halim Mansor said refugees who were employed here would end up resettling here due to legal loopholes.
“We cannot afford to hire refugees because most of them will then stay here for as long as they wish.
“There is no specific timeframe for refugees to stay and leave here, unlike legal documented workers,” he told FMT.
He was responding to an announcement by American coffee giant Starbucks that it would hire 10,000 refugees worldwide over the next five years, in response to US President Donald Trump’s immigration ban.
Trump’s unpopular travel ban denies all refugees entry to the US for at least 120 days, Syrian refugees indefinitely and citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days.
Trump’s administration says the ban is in place pending studies on how to keep militants out of the US and he has denied accusations by human rights groups that Muslims have been singled out.
Halim said that while the Malaysian government could assist refugees on humanitarian grounds, it should not facilitate the hiring of refugees as part of the foreign workforce in the country.
“Refugees have no documentation. Besides, if refugees were to work here, they would not be protected by Malaysian labour laws.”
He also noted that Malaysia was not obliged to resettle refugees as it was not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.
Meanwhile, MEF executive director Shamsuddin Bardan said the idea of employing refugees over foreign workers was worthy of consideration because unemployed refugees often contributed to social problems.
“For them (refugees) to be in the country for a long time without employment, may create lots of problems, and this is exactly what is happening now.”
Shamsuddin, citing figures from the UNHCR, pointed out that the country was providing shelter to 145,000 refugees.
Rather than hire foreign workers, why not employ the refugees who are already here, he said.
“I would say that some flexibility should be introduced into the current policy so that we are not constantly importing foreign labour. In fact, we already have two million legal foreign workers here right now.
However, Shamsuddin said the government must ensure that any policy to hire refugees would not be abused by opportunistic migrants.
“Strict employment policies are very important to ensure that we do not encourage opportunistic migrants to head here.”
Starbucks is not alone against Trump’s immigration ruling as Nike chief executive Mark Parker has stepped out to denounce it as a threat to the company’s core value of diversity.
Google has set up a RM17.9 million crisis fund to help employees and people affected by Trump’s policy.
Airbnb offered free accommodation to people stranded by the ban while Microsoft has sent a letter offering legal assistance to affected employees.
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