Treat migrant workers fairly

LETTERS: Migrant workers usually do not have the intention to stay permanently in the country or region in which they come to work.

They come to pursue work and make an honest living to support themselves and their family.

Those who work outside their home country are also called foreign workers.

It's sad to hear stories of migrant workers being subjected to unfair treatment from their employer and subjected to negative perceptions from society.

Why should migrant workers be treated and be seen in such hostile way?

Nobody will spend much of their pocket money, time and energy as well as enduring many hardship and difficulties to find work unless they are desperate and don't have any choice back home.

Work is a central part of a person's life that ensures the sustenance for one's self and also one's dependants.

It is also an essential component of one's sense of identity, self-worth and emotional wellbeing.

Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (UDHR 1948) states that:

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment;

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work;

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection; and

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests. A person may engage in employment in his homeland or abroad.

Malaysia has attracted many migrant workers including from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Philippines, India, Pakistan, and Nepal.

The migrant workers span the occupational spectrum from professionals on fixed-term contracts to labourers who work at 3D sectors (dirty, dangerous or difficult).

Many of them are predominantly employed as labourers in construction and plantation sectors, restaurants and as domestic workers. Some receive low wages and some have been subjected to discrimination.

There were also reported cases involving fraud by their own agents and employers, subjected to exploitations and abuses, denial of basic labour protection, and others.

It is very important for every worker including migrant workers to be protected at all times.

Article 6(1) of the Federal Constitution clearly provides that "no person shall be held in slavery". The term "no person" reflects that neither local nor migrant workers shall be held in slavery or any form of servitude.

Further Article 6(2) of the Federal Constitution provides that all forms of forced labour are prohibited. Apart from the above, Article 8(1) of the Federal Constitution provides that "all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law".

Again, the words "all persons" in the above article would necessarily include the migrant workers. Hence, physically abusing migrant workers such as causing hurt and their wrongful confinement is totally abhorred and is thus, prohibited by the Constitution.

It should, therefore, be recognised and accepted that all workers should be treated with full dignity without distinction whether they are local or migrant.

Migrants workers should enjoy and be equally protected under our labour legislations like Employment Act 1955 [Act 265], Industrial Relations Act 1967 [Act 177], Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 [Act 514], and others.

There is also an urgent need for Malaysia to relook how migrant workers are stationed in this country.

Recent exposure over unsympathetic and uncivilised treatment of migrant workers by a few factories in the country need serious attention and require immediate action by the government and all the enforcement agencies.

This recent exposure might just be the tip of the iceberg.

A lot of these corporations might use cost-cutting measures to maximise profit at the expense of a person's dignity and foreigners are their primary targets as most of them are not aware of their rights or afraid to bring this up due to fear of being deported or losing their jobs.

Malaysia needs to ramp up efforts into relooking at living conditions of these migrant workers as their horrific living conditions significantly contributed to the spread of many diseases including Covid-19.

The first step is to teach all the migrant workers who come and work in our country about their basic rights.

All migrant workers need to be inform about existence of various groups and associations in the country which they can have access to in order to seek immediate assistance.

Malaysia needs to inspect cautiously the background of all companies before approving their request to hire foreign labour. This includes checking the company past track records, their ability to provide proper facilities and accommodation for the migrant workers, as well as their capability in ensuring the safety and health of the migrant workers working in their place.

Dr Muzaffar Syah Mallow,

Associate Professor, Faculty of Syariah & Law

Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM);

Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman,

Member of Parliament, Muar

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

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