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?
BY YASMIN RAMLAN AND RAM ANAND
The section on foreign labour employment in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) is a cause of concern for some employers who use migrant labour, stakeholders say.
The agreement among 12 countries contains a chapter on labour aimed at Malaysia’s track record with human trafficking, which at one point nearly jeopardised its joining the trade pact until an upgrade in 2014.
The chapter includes a slew of measures, such as employers barred from withholding employees’ passports, besides requiring them to pay levies, while granting workers’ rights to set up unions.
But the Malaysian Maid Employers Association (MAMA) and Association of Foreign Maid Agencies (PAPA) both said the hiring of domestic workers was already covered by bilateral agreements between two countries.
“The question for me is, we already have these guidelines in place through our free trade agreements (FTA), do we need TPPA? It must not infringe on our sovereignty,” MAMA president Engku Ahmad Fauzi Engku Muhsein told The Malaysian Insider.
The part about the TPPA labour chapter that concerned him most was the right to form a union, he said. “Tomorrow, they can form a union and ask for a four-day working week.
That would be unfeasible. I’m quite wary about that part. “You can have unions, but we need to be specific in the guidelines. It’s too general right now and it can be interpreted in different ways,” Engku Ahmad said.
PAPA president Jeffrey Foo said he, too, has reservations on the TPPA’s application on foreign workers.
“This category is not mentioned specifically and normally, the hiring of domestic workers from overseas is covered under mutually agreed MOU (memorandum of understanding) between Malaysia and sending countries, such as Indonesia, Cambodia and others,” he said.
Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) president Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan said imposing strict rules on withholding passports and imposing levies would not be “conducive”.
“There are employers who withhold passports after getting written consent from foreign workers,” he said.
This was the reason the iKad were issued to foreign workers because not all hold their passports, Shamsuddin added.
“If foreign workers are allowed to hold their own passports, then there is no need for iKad, and the government should do away with penalising employers when workers abscond. Employers are required to report workers absconding to immigration, though they would have little control over the issue.”
He also said levies must be paid by foreign workers and not employers, as it would be unfair on local workers who paid taxes.
“Levies are a form of income tax. If the term ‘levy’ attracts unnecessary attention, then change it to something more palatable for the international community.”
Shamsuddin also called for an end to the use of agents and middlemen to recruit foreign workers, adding that recruitment should be based on government-to-government pacts.
Malaysia had been a Tier 3 country on the US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report, until its upgrade to Tier 2 in 2014.
The improvement in rank allowed Malaysia to join the trade pact since American law prevents it from signing trade agreements with a Tier 3 country.
Malaysia has been identified as a human-trafficking hub and again came into international spotlight this year when mass graves and slave camps were found in the jungles of Wang Kelian, Perlis, after a regional crackdown on human traffickers.
Labour rights groups have also reported forced labour in Malaysia’s lucrative palm oil, construction and electronics industries.
American authorities have said despite Malaysia’s upgrade, it still had a lot more work to do to secure convictions in the fight against human slavery. – November 17, 2015.
Source: The Malaysian Insider
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