Monday, February 19, 2007

Migrant workers need to be seen as humans(Malaysiakini)

Migrant workers need to be seen as humans
Irene Fernandez
Feb 16, 07 5:09pm

Absolute power corrupts absolutely is a common cliché that has lost its warning and interpretation with our state authorities. And this was reflected very much in the statement made by the home affairs minister in the media yesterday. The minister stated that foreign workers will no longer come under the purview of the human resources minister.

This move would mean that total power and control will now be with the ministry of home affairs where foreign labour is concerned. And a bill is ready to be tabled in Parliament next month! What discussions have been held with various the communities? A quick contact with some of the source countries revealed that they do not know about this bill. If the citizens of the source countries are going to be affected and implicated by this coup led by Radzi, then they should be consulted.

The home ministry has already bungled the whole recruitment and placement of foreign workers. There is absolutely no planning, no strategy, no foresight and no direction into the employment needs of the country. Policies and recruitment have been on a continued ad hoc policy.

But most of all, there has not been any transparency on how decisions are made as to recruitment and letters of demand to agencies; on MOUs signed between Malaysia and source countries and on the approval given to over 32 companies to outsource labour.

Add to this the lack of transparency over the bill that will be tabled. The mess the ministry has made is reflected in the large number of undocumented workers in the country where over and over again, innocent workers have been arrested and abused while the real criminals have gone scot free.

But sadly, the minister, seems to pride himself on the fact that his biggest or best output will be the arrest of 40,000 undocumented workers. And there is nothing to state how many traffickers of human persons - especially of women and children - will be punished nor how many employers will be tried. Nor of agents who have made fast buck from the poor migrant workers and have cheated them.

Should not we be ashamed that we go after the most vulnerable group and hunt them down like game? Have we become so inhuman that we find it most rewarding to arrest 60,000 refugees (now seen as illegal migrants) including children whose only crime is to flee their countries for fear of persecution and political repression?

Do we know how many traffickers and enforcement officers’ bank accounts have swelled because of the ministry’s non-transparent and inhuman form of arrest and deportation especially to the Thai-Malaysia border?

But most of all, why is the home ministry so strong-willed in taking full control over foreign workers? Is it because there is a lot of money to be made through recruitment and through the approvals for outsourcing? Already the levy and service fees rake in billions of ringgit annually.

What does the ministry know of workers’ rights and of labour demands and increasing the skills of workers? Are they stating that they will deal with labour rights and labour disputes?

The recruitment and employment of foreign workers is not just about the enforcement of the Immigration Act. Migrant workers are not tourists nor visitors. Migrant workers are here for work. Thus it is all about labour. It means the effective enforcement of the Employment Act, the Industrial Relations Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Workmen’s Compensation Act and many others.

The ministry does not have the expertise to enforce these Acts. It is therefore ridiculous to see the migrant worker a purely as a foreigner. The migrant worker is recruited and brought into the country as a worker. She is not a slave. And therefore his rights as a worker and as a human being come first.

Honorable Minister, let us not recruit anymore migrant workers if we cannot respect them as workers and as human beings. If we cannot do justice to the poor and the exploited, then we cannot call ourselves a nation with morals. If we want to make money, then tap the rich and the wealthy, not the poor, the hungry and the vulnerable.

And finally, if we cannot pay decent wages to the worker before her sweat dries up, then set aside this opaque bill. Work towards a comprehensive Foreign Workers Act that will ensure their protection of rights, justice and integrity.

We ask you to fight corruption, be transparent and build integrity.

The writer is programme coordinator, Tenaganita.

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