MP critises Human Resources minister for underplaying forced labour crisis

KUALA LUMPUR: Former Klang member of parliament Charles Santiago criticised Human Resources minister V. Sivakumar for downplaying the scale of forced labour, calling the remark exacerbated the plight of the victims.

Santiago censured the broken system threatening vulnerable workers' safety and rights under Sivakumar's admission.

"Forced labour exists. Sivakumar's response is a red flag. His dismissal of the scale of the problem is irresponsible and harmful to workers who are currently trapped in the system of forced labour," Santiago said.

He was referring to recent reporting by an English news portal quoting Sivakumar refuted activist's claim on the 'significant illicit industry' of modern slavery.

Santiago bashed the ministry's lack of urgency, calling the failure to assess the scale of forced labour accurately unacceptable and appalling.

"The ministry must commit to blacklisting employers who do not abide by International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards and exploit workers.

"Publishing the list of blacklisted employers on their website will create a culture of transparency and accountability for employers," he said.

Santiago also urged the ministry to work with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to conduct a joint study.

Yesterday, the human resource minister Sivakumar acknowledged that forced labour continues to exist in the country, yet said he did not think the number of cases was big.

"I'm not saying that there is no forced labour. I do not think the number is that big, but I do not deny it exists.

"Right now, the Labour Department is all out on this matter, and they are willing to go down, investigate, and take severe actions against employers who are using forced labour," Sivakumar said.

Sivakumar made the remark when asked by reporters to comment on a claim by renowned United Kingdom-based activist Andrew Wallis that there may be up to 212,000 victims of modern slavery in Malaysia.

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