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?
MP SPEAKS Civil society groups, including NGOs, trade unions and employers’ associations, should welcome Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s offer to meet up with them to explain the rationale behind plans to import 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers in the next three years
This meeting is extremely crucial, as the entire strategy is wrong for many reasons. And it doesn’t seem to be clearly thought out as well.
The 11th Malaysia Plan stipulates that by 2020, about 1.5 million new jobs will be created, with improvements in labour productivity and reduced dependency on low-skilled foreign workers.
Now, what about Malaysian broker companies vying for the Bangladesh market? Will these companies be the go-between for the Malaysian government to organise the movement of the 1.5 million workers to Malaysia? And on what terms and conditions?
The second question therefore, is, who is lying?
There are at least four million undocumented workers in Malaysia. To top this, the government recruits workers from 13 other countries.
So, Zahid’s next two questions are: what is the basis of bringing in more workers when there is an existing pool in the country? And will you stop recruiting workers from other countries?
Over many years we have seen Malaysia rolling out its welcome mat to foreign workers. And we have also witnessed the abusive treatment they receive at the hands of immigration officers and labour brokers, including Rela, once the welcome mat is rolled back.
The fifth question for Zahid, who is now also deputy prime minister, would therefore be, what are the extradition or amnesty efforts, when previous efforts have failed?
Ministries, government agencies not on same page
What is obvious is that the various ministries and governmental agencies are not on the same page. It is equally obvious that Malaysia’s need to reduce the dependence on migrant workers has not been thought out clearly.
Most importantly, the government has not taken into account criticisms, such as the argument that bringing in a large number of migrant workers has a tendency to dampen wages of Malaysians.
And, one can’t help but ask if the agreement to bring in the 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers to Malaysia is more about making money for labour brokers than addressing local market demands.
So here is the final question for Zahid: has the ministry conducted a labour market needs assessment study to justify the number of workers required in the coming years – a study that entails skill needs, requirements and gaps, including a projection of employment by industry and sector for the coming years?
If Zahid dithers, or is unable to answer all these questions, the stakeholders at the meeting should ask him to go back and do his homework first.
CHARLES SANTIAGO is the Member of Parliament for Klang.
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