Malaysia-based migrant rights organisations Freedom United and Tenaganita have called on Malaysia’s Minister of Human Resources M Kulasegaran to cancel a dangerous proposal that put millions of migrant workers at risk of debt bondage.
Last December, Kulasegaran announced that he was in favour of employers deducting 20 per cent of the migrant workers’ salaries in an effort to prevent them from fleeing their workplaces.
Freedom United and Tenaganita immediately launched a campaign to stop this plan in its tracks, and on Thursday they delivered 18,194 petition signatures calling on the Minister to scrap this idea, according to a press release received from Malaysia.
The organisations observed that many migrant workers were already trapped in debt bondage and are now unable to pay off exploitative recruitment fees.
‘Kulasegaran’s proposal to cut 20% of their pay will make a bad situation worse,’ they said in a statement.
‘It cannot be a win-win solution, as proposed by the minister, where migrant workers are said to be able to collect the deducted amount when they leave the country after their work permits have expired under his policy.’
‘If the purpose of this policy is to prevent migrant workers from fleeing their workplaces, we should be focusing on the root cause of why workers leave their employment,’ they observed.
The migrant rights organisations also mentioned that a significant number of workers who flee do so to escape exploitative working conditions.
The organisations were particularly concerned over how employers continued to withhold wages while workers were being abused and overworked in their workplaces.
In a statement issued by Freedom United executive director Joanna Ewart-James and Tenaganita executive director Glorene A Das, said, at the end of May, they came to know from the ministry of human resources that the government was ‘gathering inputs from relevant stakeholders through a series of engagement pertaining to this proposal.’
Glorene A Das said that, ‘In reality, after years of experience working with migrant workers in Malaysia, we are very clear that this proposal would only encourage forced and bonded labour. In fact, it would only further institutionalise bonded labour, violating the international labour standards.’
She said that over and over again, the measures to institutionalise practices have crippled the rights and dignity of migrants.
‘Today, in the 21st century, Malaysia has created an underclass of workers called migrant workers who are open to extreme forms of exploitation that reflects modern-day slavery,’ said Glorene Das.
Joanna Ewart-James said that, ‘Our community stands with migrant workers — we value their role in the global economy. We are concerned that this proposed wage deduction puts vulnerable workers at much greater risk of modern slavery.’
The NGOs expressed their hope that the Malaysian government would reconsider its strategy and extend its support to all who were trying to create an environment which genuinely respects, protects, promotes and defends the rights and dignity of all workers, including migrant workers.
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