Permatang Pauh: The missing issue


There is one issue you will hardly hear about in the Permatang Pauh by-election campaign – even thought it affects one in three workers in the country.

Now, why would politicians who are desperate for votes ignore the concerns of one in three workers?

Perhaps it’s because when we talk about workers, we rarely think of the migrant workers in the country. Yes, one out of every three workers in the country is a migrant worker.

For the last two days I have been in Shah Alam attending a National Consultation on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers organised by Tenaganita, the Bar Council, Aliran and Caram Asia.

I thought this often neglected issue was important enough to take a break from the flurry of activity in Permatang Pauh.

One of the main concerns is that employers or agents often hold the passports of migrant workers – in violation of the Passports Act. This allows them near total control of the workers.

Another serious concern is the denial of their right to join trade unions. A senior official from the Human Resources Ministry told the participants that there is nothing to stop migrant workers from joining trade unions. As far as the Ministry is concerned, the law does not stop them from joining trade unions.

But then, works permits and employment contracts often carry a clause barring migrant workers from joining persatuan (associations), which includes kesatuan (trade unions). Apparently, such clauses stem from a Home Ministry policy.

So the question is which has greater legal force: the law of the land or a Home Ministry policy?

Much abuse also occurs when outsourcing firms bring in workers into the country. A lot of money is at stake in bringing in these workers. But often the poor workers end up stranded without proper jobs in the country.

Unfortunately, not many politicians, including parliamentarians, care about the plight of migrant workers. Why is that?

Fong Po Kuan, the rare MP who made space in her busy schedule to attend the entire two-day consultation, knows the reason. “It’s because migrant workers do not carry any votes. Therefore many politicians, who might otherwise be interested in defending human rights, are not interested in these workers.”

Her concern for migrant workers and her willingness to admit that she has a lot more to learn about the issue impressed many of the participants. In her, the migrant workers have a friend in Parliament.

The other MP who spoke at the forum was R Sivarasa, a long-time human rights activist.

As for the MTUC, it has come a long way. Under the leadership of Syed Shahir, the umbrella body of trade unions has moved from an anti-migrant workers stance to one that considers migrant workers as workers too.

With more people getting involved in the cause, there is hope yet that we can do something to protect the rights of migrant workers and grant them the same rights as Malaysian workers.

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Kabonfootprint huma rights research

Thanks for the article

UMNO's Betrayal & Treachery
UMNO's Betrayal & Treachery
15 Aug 2008 3.57pm

BN or UMNO used say that “We will not take away from the non Malays especially the Chinese, in the implementation of the NEP but instead strive to enlarge the pie so that no one existing race at that point in would feel disadvantaged or deprived”. Instead, what we have over the last 30 years have been nothing short of treachery of UMNO under Mahathri especially, and the betrayal of the promise given by earlier UMNO leaders. For the last 30, especially the 22 + 4 years, it was no longer a case of widening the “economic pie” but grabbing… Read more »

The Economic Mismanagement Issues
The Economic Mismanagement Issues
15 Aug 2008 3.33pm

I do not think the welfare of migrant workers is the issue. In my opinion, the world’s economic structure has changed. China and India, not mentioning America and Europe, are formidable competitiors in every field. We have been closing down factories due to non ompetitive costs, and you want us to remain on the low skills, low knowledge industry? You want us to remain trpped there? No, the answer is to upgrade and go into higher skills, knowledge based services and technology. We have to do this while we still have that little distance ahead of the “merging giants” but… Read more »

Doc Sue
Doc Sue
15 Aug 2008 12.05pm

Thanks to our … police and immigration , employers get away with exploiting and oppressing foreign workers. While doing medical check up for a group of Bangladeshis I was told they did not get their salaries for seven months and their employer had (allegedly) bribed relevent autorities after the workers filed reports and the cases were dropped.

15 Aug 2008 5.23am

anil, This migrant workers i believe are two groups. 1.The skill – mostsly Indonesian – well paid – earn better than Malaysian. 2.The unskill – very lowly paid – mostly from India and Bangladesh and Burma- There are mostly promise higher salary by the agent in their country before coming to Malaysia.Its like two way the agent in Malaysian make money from outsource and in return their couterpart make more. The owner of factory – hold their pasport mainly from this workers – reason – scared they run away.The workers also ignorant but they also part partly to blame and… Read more »