Trafficking is not just about sex workers – Charles Hector
Trafficking in persons is defined internationally as constituting three elements: (a) an “action”, being recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons; (b) a “means” by which that action is achieved, for example threat or use of force, or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or a position of vulnerability and the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person; and (c) a “purpose” of the intended action or means, namely exploitation. Note, the consent of the victim to the intended exploitation is irrelevant.
Likewise in Malaysia, the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act 2007 defines "trafficking in persons" or "traffics in persons" means the recruiting, transporting, transferring, harbouring, providing or receiving of a person for the purpose of exploitation; and "exploitation" means all forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude, any illegal activity or the removal of human organs.
We will look specifically at worker exploitation in Malaysia, including forced labour or services. Forced or compulsory labour is defined as "all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily." Forced labour refers to situations in which persons are coerced to work through the use of violence or intimidation, or by more subtle means such as accumulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities.
The local worker: victim of trafficking?
The local worker in Malaysia can come under the threat of dismissal, or a delay in promotion or wage increase. They are discouraged from claiming their legal rights or standing up for rights. Even trade union leaders are not saved from such "intimidation" – and some find that they are overlooked for promotion and wage increase exercises when their fellow workers, not union leaders or active union members, get promoted or wage increases.
Unionists are also targeted for disciplinary action and dismissal for the carrying out of legitimate activities like the issuance of media statements, picketing, involvement in campaigns for the promotion and protection of worker rights and such matters, which reasonably should be considered as legitimate union activities.
If union members are so intimidated and under the menace of such penalties, what more with the ordinary worker who is not unionised?
The Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) recently called a temporary unemployment assistance scheme to be set up, which is a good proposal and will reduce vulnerability of Malaysian workers.
Migrant workers more vulnerable to exploitation
If the employer is an exploitative employer or a cheat, or the working conditions are bad and intolerable, the local worker have the choice of escaping this reality and finding employment elsewhere but this is not so for the migrant worker who is bound by the work permit that allows him to work for one employer.
Most migrants, when they come to Malaysia, are already are in debt having expended about RM5,000 – so really the option of just going back to the country of origin when one finds oneself in a situation of exploitation is not an option.
Migrant workers will not be made "illegal" or deported, but be allowed to work and stay legally, until all their valid claims against employers and others are properly heard and settled.